It’s genuinely surprising the number of disgusted faces I was presented with when I told people I was making slow-cooked ox cheek ragù. I mean, we’re not talking tongue or tripe or some random body part that you would only see Z-list celebrities eating in a jungle in Australia. This is cheek we’re talking about. Tender, melt-in-your-mouth, rich and flavourful ox cheek.
Ox cheek is, for some reason, a fairly unknown cut. I myself am guilty of not trying it until fairly recently at the National Theatre Terrace Restaurant. I was absolutely bowled over and made a mental note to get down to my local butcher asap so I could have a go at cooking it myself. Over the past year or so it’s had a bit of a renaissance, and about time too. It’s a cheap cut and wonderfully simple to cook, but can still impress at a dinner party. It’s all the better for having been made a couple of days in advance, which means that when you have friends over for dinner, you can actually sit and have a glass of wine with them, rather than spending half the night in the the kitchen.
Ox cheek has to be cooked on a low heat for several hours, otherwise the meat will be tough and fibrous, but after very little preparation time you can just leave it to work its magic in the oven or slow cooker for 4-6 hours. There were all sorts of recipes I could have cooked for this post, but I decided to go with a ragù so I would have an excuse to get my pasta maker out. If you feel that making pasta is a bit too adventurous, you could easily buy some pappardelle or tagliatelle, or it would work well as a stew served with buttery mash or polenta.
Slow-cooked ox cheek ragù
Ingredients (serves 4 generously)
– 2 x ox cheeks – approx. 800g
– Flour for dusting
– Olive oil
– 1 x onion, finely chopped
– 2 x sticks of celery, finely chopped
– 1 x medium carrot, finely chopped
– 1 x tin of chopped tomatoes
– 1 x tbsp tomato puree
– 300ml red wine
– 200ml beef stock
– 2 x sprigs rosemary
– A few sprigs of thyme
– 2 x bay leaves
– 2 x heaped tsp sugar
– Salt and cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 150°C or 130°C if fan assisted. Cut the cheeks in half so you have four pieces and dust with flour. Fry the cheeks in olive oil in a heavy based casserole pot over a medium heat until brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set to one side. Add the chopped onions, carrot and celery to the pan and gently sweat down.
Once soft, return the ox cheeks to the pan, tie the herbs together in a bit of string and add in all the other ingredients except for the salt. If the cheeks aren’t covered with liquid you can top up with wine but you should be ok. I prefer to add salt right at the end of cooking to ensure the meat stays really tender. Put the lid on the casserole pot and cook for four hours. If after four hours the meat is not tender and falling apart, return to the oven and cook for another hour. Once cooked, break the meat up a bit but make sure you leave some nice big bits in there. If you feel the sauce is too liquidy for a pasta sauce, ladle a couple of portions into a non-stick frying pan and reduce for a few minutes until the right consistency. Add to the cooked pasta and cook for a further 40 seconds over the heat to allow for the pasta to absorb some of the sauce. Serve with a generous helping of parmesan.
Sorry to be vague on the cooking time. At the time of making this I had a terrible oven and a terrible casserole pot which may have affected the cooking time. I ended up leaving it in the oven for about five hours.
Both of those essential pieces of cooking equipment have now been replaced.
Pasta works to the very simple equation of 100g of flour and one egg per person – this will be a generous portion each. You can roll it out by hand, but it’s hard to get it as thin as you need so I would recommend getting a pasta maker. You also need to use Tipo ’00’ flour – it’s extra-fine flour with a lower gluten content which makes soft and silky pasta.
Ingredients (serves two)
– 200g Tipo ’00’ flour
– 2 x free range eggs
Place the flour on a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. Crack the eggs into the well. Using a fork or the tips of your fingers start mixing the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time until everything is combined. You might not need all the flour if you’re using small eggs.
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until the dough feels soft and smooth, rather than lumpy and floury. It’s important you work it well so the gluten develops, otherwise you’ll be left with soft and mushy pasta. Wrap the dough in cling film and rest it in the fridge for half and hour before using.
Clamp your pasta maker firmly to the work surface and set it to the widest setting. Take a piece of dough the size of an orange and roll it out a bit so it’s flat rather than in a ball. Roll the piece of dough through the pasta maker, making sure it’s dusted with flour to stop it sticking. Click the pasta machine down one setting and roll the dough through again. Click the pasta maker back up to the widest setting, fold the dough in half and run it through again. You can try turning it 90° before feeding it through again to get a square piece of pasta. Click it down a setting a repeat this process about five times and dust with flour if it sticks to the machine. It might seem laborious (I find it fun. Yes, I am a geek) but you’ll get really nice elastic and smooth pasta this way. Once you’ve repeated the process several times, you need to run the pasta through all the settings on the machine. Click the pasta maker down another setting and run the pasta through.
Keep on going until you’re down to the second smallest setting. This setting should be fine for pappardelle and will result in slightly more robust pasta that will hold it’s own when you mix it with a ragù, but if you’re making ravioli you’ll need to take it down to the smallest setting.
Cut the pasta into thick ribbons immediately before the pasta dries out. Dust with flour and wrap the ribbons round your hand to make small bundles ready to be dropped into salted boiling water.
For the pasta I had a little help from Jamie