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Braised Ox Cheeks with Celeriac Mash Recipe
The thought alone of eating ox cheeks will doubtlessly prove off-putting to many people. Like so many perhaps less popular cuts of meat, however, once you get by the perceived stigma, cook the item in a suitable fashion and taste it, your reservations will vanish in an instant as the delicious, succulent and ultra tender meat quite literally melts in your mouth. It is often said about certain cuts of beef in particular that when they are slow braised in this way, they are so tender they can be eaten with a spoon rather than a fork. That very much proved to be the case in this instance.
Ox cheeks are a fairly inexpensive cut of meat but you perhaps won't often see them on display in supermarkets due to their unfortunate lack of popularity. If you are having trouble finding them in your local store, request them at the butcher's counter or alternatively, try a small, independent butcher's if you have one in your immediate area, where it may be possible to place an order for future collection.
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 3 hours 30 min
Ready in: 4 hours
Yields: 2 servings
- 2 half pound ox cheeks
- Salt and pepper
- 2 or 3 tablespoons vegetable or sunflower oil
- 1 medium carrot, washed, topped and roughly chopped
- ½ medium white onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 medium green chilli, topped and sliced
- 1 medium red chilli, topped and sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- Half bottle full bodied red wine
- 1 pint fresh beef stock
- 1 large baking potato
- 1 small celeriac bulb, about the same size as the potato
- 1 ounce/¼ stick of butter for mash
- White pepper
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley, plus extra to garnish
Pour the oil in to a very large pot and bring it up to a medium to high heat. Season the ox cheeks with salt and pepper and brown on both sides and around the edges in the oil. Cooking tongs are best used for turning the cheeks. This entire process should only take a couple of minutes.
Remove the ox cheeks from the pot to a holding plate. It may at this stage be necessary to add a little bit more oil to the pot and allow it to come up again to a medium heat.
Add the onion, carrot, chillies, bay leaf and thyme to the pot. Stir around for a minute or so until the onion is just starting to soften.
Pour the wine and the stock in to the pot and stir well. Turn up the heat until the liquid just starts to simmer.
Use your cooking tongs to carefully lift the browned ox cheeks in to the pot. They should ideally be roughly three-quarters covered by the liquid at this stage but absolute precision in this particular respect is not really too important.
Cover the pot and simmer as gently as possible for three hours. The cheeks should be turned every half hour and the liquid level monitored. If absolutely necessary, a little boiling water may be added to the pot in the latter stages.
When the ox cheeks have been simmering for almost three hours, it is time to start preparing the mash. It would be possible to make purely celeriac mash but I believe that preparing fifty percent celeriac and fifty percent potato mash provides a far greater texture to the finished product and a more subtle flavour which is less likely to detract from the main meal component which is the ox cheek.
The potato will take about twice as long to cook as the much softer celeriac. Begin therefore by peeling the potato, chopping it to around one and a half inch chunks and adding it to a pot with plenty of cold, lightly salted water. Put the pot on to a high heat until the water starts to simmer, reduce the heat and continue to simmer for an initial ten minutes.
Celeriac is actually a lot softer than it looks and you may expect but it does have a much thicker skin than a potato so you may have to use a knife to peel it rather than any vegetable peeler you are in the habit of using. When it is peeled, chop it in to similar sized chunks to the potato.
When the potato has been simmering for ten minutes, carefully add the celeriac chunks and bring back to a simmer for a further five to ten minutes until all the chunks are just softened.
Put a plate in to your oven and put the oven on to preheat at its lowest setting for a few minutes.
By this time, most of the liquid should have evaporated from the pot and you will be left with a strong, reduced sauce. Don't worry if there doesn't seem a lot as you only need two or three tablespoons per person.
Carefully lift the ox cheeks from the pot with a slotted spoon to your heated plate. Cover the plate with tinfoil and return it to the low oven to keep the cheeks warm.
Suspend a fine sieve over a large bowl and line it with a couple of sheets of kitchen paper. Carefully pour in the braising stock and allow it to strain for a few minutes while you drain the potatoes and celeriac at your sink and allow them to steam off for a few minutes. Note that if you don't allow this steaming off process and the resultant escaping of excess moisture, you are likely to have soggy mash. You may need to gently assist the gravy straining process with the back of a wooden spoon but be sure not to tear the kitchen paper.
Put the strained liquid in to a small saucepan and gently bring back up to a simmer.
Add the butter and a little sprinkling of white pepper to the potato and celeriac. Mash with a hand masher until just smooth.
The parsley should be added to the celeriac mash and stirred through with a spoon. The reason why it is added only at this stage is that if it were added prior to mashing, a lot of it would simply become caught in the tines of the masher.
Divide the celeriac mash between two deep serving plates and flatten in to even beds for the ox cheeks.
Lift an ox cheek carefully on to each celeriac mash bed, remembering to wear oven protecting gloves as the holding plate will be very hot.
Spoon a little of the reheated, rich gravy over each ox cheek and garnish with the leftover chopped parsley.
Although the ox cheeks will externally have darkened almost to black, the inside will remain a much lighter colour more associated with beef and the flesh should separate in to thick strands almost at a touch to provide an easy and absolutely delicious eating experience.