Friday, 21 February 2014

Weekend Man Food - Pot Roast Ox Cheeks With Red Lentils

On a recent trip to England I was excited to see ox cheeks in an excellent local farm butchers, Brogdale Farm in Faversham.

Until relatively recently ox cheeks have been unavailable. Classed as offal and obviously part of the head, they were binned because of the BSE scare. Traditionally most butchers have chucked them in the mincer, but with the growing popularity of slow cooking ox cheeks are making something of a comeback.

Rightly so. After a long slow cook they yield some of the most tender meat I've ever thrown down my gullet - so tender in fact that I could have eaten them with a spoon.

Anyway, a mere £4.50 later I emerged smiling from the butchers armed with two large cheeks and set about researching how to best cook them. Clearly a slow cook was a given, but what spices and ingredients to use?

It's here that I have to admit to actually reading what one friend has referred to as "that organ of wrongness," The Guardian. Assuming this is not enough to put you off slow cooking forever I found a Tom Kerridge recipe online under the title "10 Best Slow Cooked Recipes" in the Life & Style section.

After I recovered from a bit of a middle class existential crisis, I realised that, context aside, the recipe looked fantastic. I love using spices in my cooking, this dish being the bastard child of a curry and a traditional pot roast. Or is it technically braising? 
I won't lose any sleep over it and neither should you. All I've done is tweak it to my tastes slightly.

The great thing about this type of cooking is that you can add what you like.
Ginger Braised Ox Cheeks
Raw meat marinating in beer. That equals a weekend win in my book.

Amass the following:

(Serves 4)
2 large ox cheeks, about 400g each, cut in half
300ml stout
4 star anise
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground ginger
Rapeseed oil
2 onions, finely chopped4 garlic cloves, grated
150g fresh root ginger, finely chopped
600ml beef stock

For the spiced red lentils:

250g red lentils
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
2 tsp turmeric
1 chilli, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
800ml chicken stock
Freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes 
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the parsley yoghurt: 

Slack handful parsley, finely chopped
200g plain yoghurt
1 tsp black pepper

Proceed as follows:

  1. A day before you plan to serve this, mix the stout, star anise, coriander and cumin seeds, chilli flakes and ground ginger together in a large bowl. Add the ox cheeks, cover and marinate in the fridge for 24 hours. (I left the cheeks untrimmed.)
  2. The next day remove the ox cheeks from the marinade and pat dry with a tea towel. Reserve the marinade. Heat 4 tbsp rapeseed oil in a flameproof casserole over a medium heat. Add the ox cheeks and sear on both sides until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add the onions to the fat in the pot, reduce to low and fry, stirring occasionally, for at least 5 minutes until softened, but not coloured. Add a little extra oil to the pot if necessary, then add the ginger and garlic and fry, stirring, for 4–5 minutes until they are browned, but not burnt.
  4. Return the meat to the pot, pour in the stout marinade and the beef stock and bring to the boil. Cover the pot and simmer low on the stove for a minimum 3½ hours until the beef is very tender.
  5. Take pot off the hob and leave on one side for at least 1 hour. (Or leave it to sit its own juices for 24 hours. It is supposed to taste better, but I was too impatient.)
  6. Meanwhile, make the spiced red lentils. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and place the lentils, in a roasting tray, in the oven. Toast for 10–15 minutes until lightly tinged. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  7. Heat oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onion, chilli and garlic and fry, stirring occasionally, for at least 5 minutes until softened, but not coloured. Stir in turmeric and keep stirring for a further 1–2 minutes. Add the lentils and the cinnamon stick, then pour in the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer the lentils, uncovered and stirring occasionally to make sure they don't catch on the base of the pan , for about 40 minutes until they fall apart and you have purée in the pan. Add lime juice and season.
  8. Just before serving, mix the parsley, yoghurt and black pepper together. Reheat the ox cheeks and their cooking juices. Serve the cheeks with a little of the cooking juices, the red lentil purée and a good dollop of the yoghurt.
In combination with the zesty red lentil side dish, the ginger and star anise cut through the gelatinous meat perfectly. If you have any left over cooking liquor you can recycle it as a soup - we simply added the left over lentils and some diced boiled potatoes.

Hopefully ox cheeks don't become so trendy as to rocket in price. That would be a shame. They are a true thrift cut of meat, but more importantly taste fantastic.

I've no idea if I'll be able to find ox cheeks now I'm stranded back in Denmark, I guess I'll just have to smuggle some more back next time I fly over.

I urge you to visit the butchers at Brogdale Farm if you're in the Faversham area - it is nothing short of meat Valhalla - more recipes to follow soon using their wares.


  1. Called my local butcher straight away. He was pleasantly surprised, and promised me to get some ox cheeks for next weekend. Thank you!

    1. Just another thought, I think it would work with pigs cheeks too - just throw in a little fennel

  2. Glad to be of service old chap! Hope they're not too expensive in Norway..