Saturday, October 20, 2018


Out my kitchen window. In spite of the break in the clouds, the rain is bucketing down.

Clouds blow across the sky, alternately obscuring  the view down the valley to the sea. A chill rain begins to fall. I rummage around looking for some long-sleeved tops and socks and end up pulling out the bags of winter clothes and coats and doing the seasonal closet changeover.

It’s also the season when I no longer enjoy that evening copa of chilled rosado (rosé wine). Time to switch to warming reds. And, after a summer-long hiatus on oven use, it’s oh-so-nice to have the warmth of an oven-braised dish.

My seasonal changeovers inspired the dish—oven-braised beef cheeks in red wine. Served, of course, with red wine, while wearing socks and a cozy sweatshirt.

Oven-braised beef cheeks with red wine.

Serve beef cheeks with pan-roasted vegetables.

Or, cut up the meat and serve it with mashed potatoes to soak up that luscious red wine gravy.

Beef cheeks need long, slow cooking, about two hours, to tenderize them. (A pressure cooker or Instant Pot would shorten cooking time.) During that time, the meat shrinks considerably and the wine cooks down a lot, concentrating the flavors. Caramelized onion turns the sauce dark, velvety brown. Once meat is tender, remove it. Puree the remaining liquid with carrots and onion. Sieve the sauce. It probably needs no thickening.

Use any dry red wine that is good enough to drink. I used a crianza from La Rioja. (Crianza wines have a little time on oak.) A bottle of wine equals 750 ml./ 25.5 fluid ounces or about 3 ½ cups. The wine should almost cover the meat. Add additional water if needed.

Braised meat is even better the day after it’s cooked, so this is a fine make-ahead dish.

Oven-Braised Beef Cheeks in Red Wine
Carrilladas de Ternera al Vino Tinto

One beef cheek, cut in thirds (about 20 oz.)
Serves 4-6.

1 or 2 (20-ounce) beef cheeks
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed but not peeled
12 peppercorns
1 large onion, chopped (1 ½ cups)
1 carrot, chopped (½ cup)
1 bottle red wine
2 teaspoons sugar
Sprig of thyme
Sprig of parsley
Bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt

Remove outer skin.

Use the tip of a knife to remove the thin membrane that covers each piece of meat. Cut each one into two or three pieces. Soak the meat in a bowl of cold water to which the vinegar has been added for 10 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

In a heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Brown the beef cheeks on all sides. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and peppercorns to the skillet. When meat is browned, transfer all to a lidded cazuela or Dutch oven that can go into the oven.

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add the onion and carrot and sauté them, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown, 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the wine to the skillet and continue browning the onions. Add the sugar to the skillet with 2 tablespoons more of the wine. Cook until sugar begins to caramelize and turn dark brown. Stir frequently and modulate the heat so sugar doesn’t burn. Add all the remaining wine. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Carefully pour the wine and onions over the beef cheeks in the cazuela. Liquid should almost cover the meat. Add thyme, parsley, bay and salt.

Meat is browned, ready for the oven.

Place the lid on the cazuela and place in the oven. After 10 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350ºF. Braise the meat for 60 minutes. Remove the cazuela from oven and turn the pieces of meat. Cover and return to the oven. Braise until meat is fork-tender, about 60 minutes more.

Remove meat with a little of the liquid from the cazuela. Discard sprigs of herbs and bay. Remove garlic skins and return the cloves of garlic to the liquid in the cazuela.

When liquid has cooled slightly, place it in a blender and puree. Sieve the sauce. Pour over the braised meat. Reheat to serve or refrigerate, covered, overnight. 

When meat is tender, sauce is pureed and sieved.

Another recipe for autumn changeover:

More recipes for cooking cheeks:

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