Turn the Other (Beef) Cheek

Braised Beef Cheek with Pappardelle

Beef Cheek Ravioli with Agretti


“Yeah, filet mignon is expensive,” David Evans said during our tour of Marin Sun Farms. “There’s only 15 pounds of it on a 750 pound dressed steer. You don’t want to spend so much, buy some of the lesser cuts.” I bought the Beef Cheek.

I was aware of beef cheek; Carol had Braised Beef Cheek at Absinthe just last week, and son Eric had Beef Cheek Ravioli at Babbo in New York about the same time. Here’s what he had to say about it,

“My beef cheek ravioli were arranged in a single layer on the plate, about eight handmade squares with a very light stock sauce coating. The menu promised a mix of goose liver with the cheek, but the liver provided more of a flavor than a richness, which the beef cheek had plenty of on its own. It was very very good and the others seemed to enjoy their taste of it, but I wouldn’t say it was mind altering. Perhaps too much hype had preceded it.”

I had never seen beef cheek for sale, until I saw it at Marin Sun Farms. I asked the guy, “What do I do with this, braise it?”

“Low and slow,” he said.beef_cheek.jpg

How could I resist, it was $7.99 a pound for a 1.2 pound cheek.

I emailed Eric

Yo Eric,
I am in possession of a beef cheek. I see you had Beef Cheek Ravioli at Babbo and you commented on the light sauce and the inclusion of Goose Liver (don’t have any of that). Any other comment or recipe?

You’ve probably leaped into this adventure, but you should treat the beef cheek as a very fine pot roast cut. Low and slow, just don’t dry it out.

Chez Panisse Cafe cookbook has a GREAT beef cheek mole recipe — I’d recommend making this, and then making ravioli with the left overs…


I thought Alice Waters’ recipe was too complicated for a first try, so I went on line and found four recipes, including one from Singapore (ain’t the internet wonderful). I chose the simplist one, from Gourmet in March 2003, adapted from Uno e Bino, a restaurant in Rome. Worldly cut, this beef cheek. The recipe was dead simple and looked good. Nearly all the recipes suggested cooking the cheek and letting it rest for two days in the refrigerator before serving.

brown_cheek.jpg cheek_braised.jpg

browning, braised

I cooked the beef cheek Saturday afternoon in the in a five quart Dutch oven to eat for Monday dinner. The braising liquid (miripoix, wine and tomatoes) cooked way down to a very thick, but not dry, sauce. The beef cheek seemed very tender with the fork test. I let it cool, covered and removed the sauce to a container, nestled the cheek, now looking like a chunk — like a big filet mignon — into the sauce, covered it tightly with plastic wrap, sealed the lid and refrigerated.

Monday, I put the sauce in a roasting dish over a low flame and thinned with about half-cup of chicken stock. I put the cheek in the sauce, tightly covered the dish with foil and baked in a 250 ° oven for 30 minutes, to warm. Meanwhile, I made fresh pappardelle noodles. I thought I might slice the cheek to serve over the noodles, but when I tested, it cut easily with a spoon, so I hacked it up into small chunks with the spoon and mixed it all up with the sauce. Served over the noodles with a chunky side salad and a big 2003 Villabella Ripasso Valpolicella from the local Italian wine shop. Excellent! Big beefy taste and very tender (recipe at end). I refrigerated the leftovers to make into ravioli in a few days.

Beef Cheek Ravioli
By mr 4.08

Start with the LO Beef Cheek and sauce. Chop fine with a knife and heat in a little cast iron skillet if you have one. You want to find out if the consistency of what you have is too dry, too wet or just right for ravioli stuffing. Mine was just right. Reserve to a bowl and leave your skillet “dirty.” You’ll need that for the sauce.

Make your pasta.

Make your sauce. Take your dirty skillet and add some chicken broth (I had some marvelous, gelatinous broth made from a Marin Sun Farms hen). Stir and gather up all the meat bits that remain. Add red wine. Add some Dijon mustard. Add bits of each of those so you can reduce the sauce by about half and still cover the bottom of a 10-inch sauté pan.

Make your raviolis. This is an art and a craft. The craft part, I’ve got down. The art part, well,


First of all, the people who tell you to keep your pasta and finished raviolis in a damp towel are full of pasta. The stupid pasta sticks to the towel and your fingers and whatever. Bad! Put your pasta stuff on layers of parchment paper, floured as necessary. One batch of pasta is not going to dry out in the time it takes to process it.

I have not mastered the art of making ravioli. I used the fold-over method. Perhaps I should have used the pasta on pasta method. Who knows? Step two in not mastering the art is how much stuff to put in each ravioli. I tend to err on the high side.

Bottom line — my raviolis tasted fantastic but looked ugly. I guess that’s better than the alterative.

Put your sauce in a sauté pan over very low heat. Working in batches, put your raviolis in a pot of salted boiling water. They take about 3 minutes to cook. Transfer the cooked raviolis to the sauté pan with a wire spider or slotted spoon. Shake the pan to distribute the sauce. Repeat. Serve.


raviolis cooking, skillet for making sauce, raviolis in sauce, agretti


I needed some greens to go with the ravioli. Mariquita Farm does a vegetable “Mystery Box” on alternate Thursdays for their former regular customers. This time it included Agretti. This is a green I never heard of. How appropriate to serve with a cut of beef I’ve made for the first time. Its bright, lemony and crunchy, a perfect compliment to the dark and rich ravioli.

Again, it’s dead simple to prepare. I sautéed green garlic and sliced leek in plenty of olive oil, added the agretti, covered and cooked for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

That, my friends, was a scrumptious dinner.


braised beef cheeks
(Guancette di Manzo)
Gourmet | March 2003
Adapted from Uno e Bino, a restaurant in Rome and further adapted by mr.

When braised, these beef cheeks become meltingly tender, with a rich, deep flavor. At Uno e Bino, Cesanese wine is used in the braising liquid, but it’s difficult to find in the United States. A dry Lambrusco or Chianti makes a good substitute.
Active time: 1 1/4 hr Start to Finish: 4 1/4
Makes 4 main-course servings.


4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 (12-oz) beef cheeks, trimmed of excess fat [I had one 1.2# Marin Sun Farms Beef Cheek, $7.99/#, cheap eats]
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 celery rib, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups red wine (preferably a dry Lambrusco or Chianti)
1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes including juice, chopped (3 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in an ovenproof 6-quart wide heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. While oil is heating, pat beef cheeks dry and season with salt and pepper. Brown beef, without crowding, on all sides, about 20 minutes total [3 minutes/side], and transfer with tongs to a bowl. Pour off fat from pot, then add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and cook onion, carrot, and celery over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 °F.

Stir cocoa powder into vegetable mixture, then add wine and scrape up any brown bits. Increase heat to high and boil until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

Return cheeks (with any juices) to pot and add tomatoes with juice, salt, and pepper [liquid came about half way up on the cheek]. Bring to a simmer, then braise, covered, in middle of oven until very tender, about 3 hours.

Cooks’ note:
• Beef cheeks improve in flavor if made up to 2 days ahead.
Cool, uncovered, then chill, surface covered with parchment paper or wax paper and pot covered with lid. Remove any solidified fat before reheating [no fat].

One thought on “Turn the Other (Beef) Cheek

  1. Outstanding!

    Beef cheek is the BEST cut for pot roasty dishes. If people keep ignoring them , that just means more and cheaper for those of us in the know (see Flank Steak circa 1975…).

    One reason it’s so rare (besides the fact that few people ask for it) may be because of laws about handling the cow head…one of my slaughter guys refused to give me the cheeks because they wouldn’t bring the head (with all that nervous tissue — BSE risk, and all) into the clean room to cut off the cheeks…

    I think the agretti looks like something called Monks Beard that they eat often in Britain — I had it at St. John my first time there (sitting at the bar).


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