Slow-cooked ox cheeks are not often considered summer food, so I’m not even going to try pleading that this has fruit in it. It’s just something tasty I worked up after seeing cheeks on the butcher’s counter, and not being able to say no.
Heck, the plums aren’t even in season, so that’s me done for, really. I imagine there’ll be a tutting, hemp-clad psychopomp strong-arming me to a McDonald’s of perpetual flame in the hereafter. Might as well enjoy the stew while I’m here.
Actually, I’ve always thought seasonality was more inspirational than holy, and food miles are a bit of a crass simplification when you start factoring in other energy costs. Jay Rayner puts this all far better than I ever will, and anyway I’m drifting wildly off topic.
No, this is actually a way to bring some gentler, fresher flavours to what might be my new favourite cut of beef. It’s cribbed substantially from a River Cottage Every Day recipe my old housemate used to cook, but I’ve mucked about with the flavours and thrown plums at it.
With the cooking time, this is a bit of a stretch for a week night. You can take it up to, say, an hour into the slow cook the night before you want it, though, and just finish off the next day. That’s what I did the last time, and it took no harm. Although the slow overnight cooling probably added some extra softening to the meat – it was fall-apart tender even for slow-cooked cheeks.
- Ox cheeks, probably 2
- A onion
- Ginger, at least an inch – a good chunk
- A star anise
- 3-4 plums
- Vegetable stock, about 300ml
- Apple juice (the cloudy, unsweetened kind for preference), about 300ml
- Light soy sauce, 500ml
- Garlic, 2 cloves
- Cider vinegar, 2tbsp
Make sure the plums are ripe. I’ve done this with them on the firm side, and the finished thing can be a touch sour. You can correct with sugar, but it’s annoying.
You can either cut the cheeks into stout cubes, or leave them whole and slice them into thick strips before serving. It doesn’t much affect the rest of the cooking, but the strips present prettily. So yeah, dice the beef, or don’t. Cut the onion into eighths or other large bits, and slice the ginger and garlic.
Sear the beef at a fairly high heat, ideally in a heavy casserole pan. You may need to do this in batches to prevent it getting too crowded. Get a decent bit of browning on the meat, then reduce the heat and add the onions. Fry until they soften a little.
Add some of the stock, and deglaze to get the tasty bits off the bottom of the pan. Then add the rest of the liquid ingredients, the ginger, anise, and the garlic.
Put a lid on it, and put it in the oven at around 150c for about an hour and a half.
Halve the plums and remove the stones. Add these to the nearly-cooked stew, and put it back in the oven, to finish and reduce for an hour or so. This is where I leave it, if I’m making it for the next day.
The stew can be a little wet, so removing the lid for the final half hour will reduce it nicely. It’ll also concentrate the flavours, which given how strong they are off base may not be to all tastes.
It serves best with some greens, and mash to soak up the juices. Although I could just about picture it going with noodles. The ginger is a big flavour here, but the fierceness of it cooks out, and the sweetness coming from the apple, onion, and plums helps with balance. That’s why it needs the vinegar, of course – it’s at the edge of the sweetness I’m comfortable with off base.
This makes a great winter comfort stew, but the ginger and fruit work just fine for a (late) summer dinner. In fact, I’d even consider putting this with white wine, although a chilled US-style IPA or a solid craft lager would probably go better.
I also think it would make a spectacular pasty or empanada filling, if you cooked the liquid right down. Lid off for the final hour might well do it. In that case, I’d probably mix in a serious handful of spring onions before baking.
You can find the original River Cottage recipe online