It is winter and cold. A good time for a hearty braise.
I bought 4 beef cheeks and a kilogram of oxtail (about 3 large bits) and had a bit of fun in the kitchen.
Beef cheeks are a quite flavourful cut of meet, but do require a long, slow cooking. It is worth the wait.
I preheated my oven to 160C/325F
I browned a couple sides of each beef cheek in a hot skillet and set them aside.
In my largest Le Creusette cast iron cocotte, I warmed 2 tablespoons of olive oil and softened a medium onion cut in small dice over a low heat for 15 minutes. Then added two carrots cut in small dice and two celery ribs, also cut in small dice. I let them get happy together for about 10 minutes.
The beef cheeks and oxtail were added to the vegetables.
I then chucked in two fresh bay leaves and a handful of fresh thyme – both from The Potted Kitchen Garden, two small tins of chopped tomatoes, 250 mils of beef stock (preferably homemade, if possible), 1/2 a bottle of Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfindel, and 2 tablespoons of good quality cocoa powder.
The pot was stirred until all the ingredients were reasonably well incorporated, then brought to a simmer on the hob.
When the pot began to simmer, I put on a tight fitting lid and bung the cocotte into the oven for about 3 hours, until the meat was very tender. Remember to check the pot every 20 minutes or so to be sure it is slowly bubbling away. If the liquid dries out, you can always add warm water or another splash of wine.
For the potato mash, I simmered two Agria potatoes in well salted water with two fresh bay leaves. When the potatoes were tender, I drained them well and removed the bay leaves. I added a knob of butter and the drained potatoes back to the pan over the lowest heat until they stopped steaming, then mashed them well with a potato masher. When the potatoes were the proper texture, I added a good A dollop of crème fraîche and salt to taste.
I plated the braised meat and potato mash on warm plates (important!) and served with a light side salad and a glass of California Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfindel.
A perfect winter dish. Delicious.