I finally managed to track down some ox cheek, not from Waitrose which has so far failed to stock it locally despite a barrage of publicity a couple of weeks ago, but in my local butcher Sheepdrove. They’d obviously responded to the Waitrose offal initiative: an assistant told me they’d never sold ox cheek as a separate cut up to now - it just got chucked in with the mince - but they’d had several requests for it.
I bought 485g for just £2.52 which is amazing for organic beef but found I ended up with quite a bit less once I’d trimmed off all the connective tissue of which it has rather more than the average braising cut. Then we invited a couple of friends to supper so I had to make it stretch for four - in the time-honoured frugal way by cutting the meat up small, making a lot of sauce and serving extra vegetables.
Ox cheek needs long slow cooking which is fine with me, at the end of which it has a meltingly tender texture. I cooked it with a rich dark beer which worked really well though you could equally well cook it daube-style with leftover wine. Or simply with beef stock. I also added a dollop of fig chutney which was rather nice (you need a touch of sweetness when you’re cooking with beer) and a counter-balancing dash of acidity in the form of a spoonful of malt vinegar.
The end result was delicious, every bit as good as a stew made with a more expensive cut. Hopefully ox cheek will remain a bargain but somehow I doubt it . . .
Ox cheek and Old Peculier stew
450-500g ox cheek
2-3 tbsp cooking oil
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp ground allspice or mixed spice
1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
A bayleaf (if you have one)
300 ml beef stock or stock made with 1 tsp Bovril or half a beef stock cube
150 ml Theakston’s Old Peculier or other full-bodied ale, porter or stout
1 tbsp fig relish (I used Tracklements) or date chutney or malt extract or dark brown sugar
1-2 tbsp malt vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 140°C/275°F/Gas 1. Cut the beef into small cubes, carefully removing any large bits of sinew or connective tissue (there’s quite a lot so just take out anything you think looks tough). Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the cubes quickly until lightly browned and transfer to a casserole. In the same oil cook the onion until starting to soften then add the carrots and cook for a few minutes more. Stir in the allspice and flour then add the stock and beer and gradually bring to the boil. Stir in the chutney and 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, add the bayleaf if you have one then put a lid on the casserole and cook in a low oven for about 2 1/2 -3 hours until the meat is tender (slightly less if you’re going to cool and reheat it). Check and stir the stew from time to time, turning the heat down a setting if it seems to be cooking too fast and half-opening the lid if the sauce needs reducing. When the meat is cooked check the seasoning, adding a little more vinegar if you think it needs it and an extra splash of beer to taste. I served this with a tray of roast sweet potatoes, onions and carrots and wedges of steamed Savoy cabbage but it would also be great with baked or boiled potatoes.