Food & Drink Magazine

A Cheeky Nod to Winter

By Helenaberthon @hberthon

The very disconcerting climate of this November ‘spring’ has made me edgy.  I don’t like to be hot in November.  November is when the first lacy glimmers of ice appear at window edges, when the crunch and creak of frost on fragile blades of grass interrupt a country walk, and when the first foray into the palpable outdoor chill evokes a ghostly swell of steamy breath, tumbling out in a misty cloud where it hangs, fleetingly, before vanishing into the jagged air.  THIS is what I expect the beginning of winter to be like.  Not this flimsy excuse for winter, where bare arms are still on show and aviators perched on top of heads.  It’s not right.  I am one for the seasons, and this has thrown me completely off course.  I needed to take this seasonal situation into my own hands so, this weekend, I decided to give winter a good old kick up the backside and tell it to get a move on in the only way I know how – through food.   And, the only way to the heart and soul of winter is by making the most incredibly unctuous, sticky stew; a stew that heralds a frosty spell, a stew that hurls spring back to where it belongs.  So I stewed some ox cheeks.  Although, frankly,  I think the word stew is inadequate in fully describing the luscious nature of this dish.

After being slowly braised in a low oven for 3 hours, the initially sinewy and rugged ox cheeks emerge from their saucy pot melting, gooey and dark with the wine-rich gravy, yielding at the merest encouragement of a fork into tender, juicy mouthfuls.  The great thing about this kind of cooking is that you create something extraordinary from the most minimal effort.  After the initial chopping and frying, the cheeks sit contentedly in the oven, merrily blipping away in their stock and wine bath, doing their thing – no interruption necessary.  Moreover, it’s so adaptable – you can mix it up to your heart’s content: bacon and pumpkin, wild mushroom and pancetta, oriental style with a cinnamon stick, star anise and a few dried chillis.  All these things will crank up the flavour a few notches in any kind of beefy stew.

I kept mine simple – I wanted warming, familiar food, food that would remind me what this time of year was all about; food that would beguilingly beckon to winter, coaxing it out from wherever it was hiding to take it’s righteous place in the seasonal cycle.  Yup.  And you know what, today is absolutely, shiver me timbers, blooming freezing so it must have worked!  The magic of winter has finally arrived!

Braised Ox Cheeks

Braised Ox Cheeks

I was so overcome with greed in the face of these meaty, glossy, beauties that I completely forgot to take a picture.  Very cheekily, I have used the recipe photo from the Waitrose website.  Thank you, Waitrose!

Braised Ox Cheeks

Adapted from a Waitrose recipe

Serves 6

  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1.5kg ox cheeks, trimmed of fat
  • 2½ tbsp olive oil
  • 2 red onions, sliced
  • 2 smoked bacon rashers or pancetta, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 400ml beef stock
  • 400ml red wine, such as burgundy
  • 500g Chantenay carrots, scrubbed

Preheat the oven to 150°C.  Season the flour, tip it onto a plate and use it to coat the ox cheeks. Heat the oil in a casserole and sear the cheeks for 5 minutes, until golden.  Remove to a plate.  Cook the onions and bacon/pancetta in the casserole for 5 minutes, then add the other ingredients bar one thyme sprig and the carrots and cover.
After 2 1/4 hours, tip the carrots into the casserole and cook for a further 45 minutes, until the cheeks are truly tender. Garnish the casserole with the remaining thyme.  Serve with a mound of buttery mash, or a simple baked potato, and some leafy greens.

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