Beef Cheek Chilli
Beef cheek chilli is a gorgeous dish. Tender, robust and sublimely yielding, once you do the initial work, it basically cooks itself. The best bit? It is a relatively cheap cut of meat, and has a wonderful deep flavour and texture. Winner. You will find yourself buying this instead of steak for dishes like this, I promise you.
When I first started making chilli, I would make it using minced beef, and yes this is fine, but once I started to experiment with other meat cuts like shin and cheek, I could see that a chilli has much more potential than the one that I was making.
Then there are chillies to think about. I used to make beef chilli with whatever chilli I had, then I progressed to smoky punchy chipotle, and then, with an appetite for more and a geeky drive beneath it, I decided to explore different chilli combinations. Then I could see what all the fuss with chilli was about. Layers of chilli playing with the beef, enhancing it, some bringing searing heat, others smoke and others a low rumble. You can make your beef chilli as hot or as mild as you want, and you can make it really interesting. Chilli can be good, and chilli can be superb. Lets talk about a superb one.
Beef cheeks are a terrific cut of meat. Easier to source now than before, as we all become more aware of cheaper flavourful cuts and the importance of nose to tail eating. Ask your butcher to get some in for you if you can’t find them anywhere, that is what I do. They need long slow cooking, and start firm and obstinate, but under that low gentle heat, they yield gently and let the chillies mix in.
I use three chillies for this dish: chipotle, pasilla and ancho. The chipotle brings smoke and a low throaty rumble, the pasilla is hotter but just medium hot and quite fruity and the ancho is medium hot too, with more of a sweet dried fruit flavour. I use a combination of three, with more chipotle. It results in a nice hot chilli, not in a face melting way but it will definitely warm your cockles on a chilly night.
NOTES ON THE RECIPE: for me this is just the right heat. Hot but not searing. For some it might be too hot, and others might like this hotter. Taste as you go and adjust where necessary. I like to serve this with some rice. This chilli tastes even better the next day, if you have time to make it in advance.
RECIPE: Beef Cheek Chilli
Serves 2 with some leftovers – and you want the leftovers, trust me
2 beef cheeks
1 x 400g tin good tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp honey
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp fresh ground cumin (or preferably 1 tbsp fresh cumin seeds, toasted in a dry pan for a couple of minutes over a medium heat and ground to a fine powder – it tastes so much better)
1 tbsp chopped dried chipotle chilli
1 tsp chopped dried pasilla chilli
1 tsp chopped dried ancho chilli
1 tbsp good dried oregano
fresh parsley or coriander to garnish
flavourless oil for frying – groundnut oil or coconut oil are my preference as you can heta both to high temperatures without changing the flavour (and coconut oil has a texture similar to butter and you don’t taste the coconut)
In a sauté pan with a lid that will comfortably accommodate the beef cheeks, sauté the beef cheeks until brown on each side over a medium heat in a tablespoon of oil. Remove from the pan.
In the same pan sauté the garlic over a medium heat in a tablespoon of oil, add the cumin and chillies for a further minute, then add the tomatoes, vinegar and honey, then fill the tin with water and add that too. Bring to a boil. Add the beef cheeks, baste with the sauce, and reduce the heat to low. Cover with a lid, and cook gently for a couple of hours, basting occasionally. Add the oregano.
Take the lid off, and continue cooking, evaporating off some of the water and thickening the sauce. When the beef cheeks visibly yield, pull them apart with a fork and season with sea salt to taste. You want the sauce to just coat the beef and not to be too wet (as in the picture).
Garnish with torn fresh parsley, eat with rice, on toast, however you like it. Enjoy!