Braised Ox Cheek

In January I found myself tucking into a braised ox-cheek, in the middle of a horrific snow storm.  We were in Cheltenham to shoot, a shoot which would subsequently be called off due to 5ft snow drifts. We'd lunched at the fabulous Le Champignon Sauvage and were supposed to have an early dinner in the dining room at the Ellenborough hotel.  With the storm raging around us however, the chef had abandoned us in a fit of pique - apparently he had set up for a conference of two hundred people, and the whole thing had been cancelled at the last moment.

Without the dining room, the six remaining guests of the hotel were forced into the bar to make do with the brasserie menu.  You can imagine - you know me well enough by now to know I really wasn't looking forward to it.  I spotted ox cheek on the menu, and concluding that it was probably being cooked sous vide, figured it couldn't be ruined by whichever inexperienced soul they'd roped in to cover this shift.

The ox cheek was absolutely gorgeous - unctuous, soft, incredibly meaty, and full of umami savouriness.  Absolutely delicious.

So again we were heading to Cheltenham to shoot, with an obligatory dinner at Le Champignon Sauvage, and this time I actually wanted to go to the brasserie! Alas! The braised cheek was no longer on the menu.... I was so desperate for a hit of meaty richness that I headed to Waitrose as soon as we got back - Waitrose is one of the few places to get ox cheeks easily.  I did debate cooking them sous vide, but in the end decided to braise them.  I also marinated them overnight in my favourite marinade (that of Heston's Meat Fruit), and the result was exactly what I'm looking for.  Ox cheek is currently £7.49 per kilo - an absolute bargain.  I always make make stew for our Christmas Quiz Night, and from now on, I will be using ox cheek!

1kg of ox cheeks, trimmed of fat
1litre of chicken stock
2 carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
2 cleaned leeks, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste

For the marinade:
100g shallots, finely sliced
3g minced garlic
15g sprigs of thyme
150g dry Madeira
150g ruby port
75g white port
50g brandy

  • Trim the ox cheek but do not remove the lines of sinew running through the centre, they will breakdown during cooking.  Cut the cheeks into large wide slices, or leave whole
  • Put the ox cheek and all of the marinade ingredients into a container, and marinate overnight
  • Chop the celery, onion, and carrots to give you a classic mirepoix or soffritto.  I added leeks to mine too
  • Put a little olive oil into a casserole dish, and add a little butter when it's heating up
  • Brown the cheek in the casserole dish, then set aside
  • Add the mirepoix / soffritto to the pan, and brown the vegetables
  • Add two tablespoons of tomato paste to the vegetables and cook for a few minutes
  • Add the reserved meat back into the pan, and add the chicken stock, and the marinade
  • Bring back to the boil and when simmering put into the oven for approximately four hours
  • You can adjust the seasoning once the sauce is reduced, adding a little worcestershire sauce if appropriate, or perhaps a little pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar if the balance of flavours requires it

  • You can serve the braised cheeks with any number of accompaniments - perhaps buttered leeks, puy lentils, parmesan polenta or champ (mashed potato with spring onions chopped through it)...  A crisp salad of baby gem lettuce and parsley would brighten the dish too.
  • This is an incredibly rich and meaty stew - the flavour is almost akin to oxtail - you certainly don't need very much of it, so don't overdo the portions