I’ve been desperate to cook some of the delectably tempting recipes in Cuisinier Gascon by Pascal Aussignac since I got my mitts on it just before leaving for the Falklands.

It’s a really, really beautiful book, full of mouth-watering recipes and beautiful images, not just of some of the dishes but also of life in Gascony. And I find it’s pretty (hard back) cover and thick pages very appealing. Inside, as well as recipes, it gives some helpful advice about some of the ingredients used – buying and preparing foie gras, for instance and the different classifications of Armagnac. There are sweet little passages about traditional life, farming and cooking in the region at the start of each chapter. And I like how the recipes are divided – we have la route de sel which Aussignac translates as “snackings”. Then a chapter about cooking with produce from le potager (the kitchen garden), followed by one on rivière et océan. After these come prés et pâturages (fields and pastures, which are the landscapes Aussignac associates with duck, geese, game plus pork, lamb, beef and veal) and forêt et prairie (forest and meadow, which represents mushrooms, truffles, eggs, snails and cheese). Finally, there is a chapter called gourmandises full of wonderful sweet treats.

As usual, as soon as I sat and looked through the book, I started depositing liberal numbers of my sticky note bookmarks, identifying the recipes that grabbed me the most.

I quickly got it into my head that I wanted to start with the Braised Ox Cheeks Bordelaise recipe and once I’m set on something I really put on my tête de mule!

But it took a little time to settle back in from our holiday, especially as our first focus was on some urgent DIY so that our new fitted bedroom could be installed just a few days after our return. After that, however, it was time to turn to the ox cheeks!

Note: I’m not really sure why cheeks and tails are still referred to with the ox- prefix rather than simply beef, but rest assured, ox cheeks = beef cheeks!

Finding ox cheeks isn’t that easy. Whilst pig cheeks have recently made it into a few supermarkets, ox cheeks seem harder to find. I’ve often lamented the lack of a decent local butcher here in North Finchley, and this search of mine drove that home to me once again.

I do have a most wonderful online source for good British meat now, but my freezer was too full to fit in a minimum order from Paganum this time, so I turned to a new twitter friend who makes weekly visits to Smithfields and Billingsgate to pick up choice meat and fish for trade customers.

Before too long, I finally had 2 kilos of meaty ox cheeks in my mitts. I used half to make this recipe, which serves 4.

I made my beef stock night before, roasting some beef bones before popping them in the slow cooker overnight with a couple of bay leaves, a small onion, a carrot (both halved) and water. The stock was strained and reduced in the morning, resulting in a wonderfully deep beef flavour.

Braised Ox Cheek Bordelaise
Ingredients
800 grams ox cheeks (I used 1 kilo)
a little olive oil
2 tablespoons plain flour
100 grams sugar
1 x 75cl bottle red wine
500 ml fresh beef stock
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper (I used table salt)
500 grams shallots, sliced lengthways (I used round shallows cut in half)
4 marrow bones (optional), soaked in cold water for 2-3 hours (I used 2)

Method

  • In a saucepan (large enough to hold the cheeks, stock and wine), fry the ox cheeks in the oil until nicely caramelised and brown.

     

  • Mix in the flour and sugar.
  • Pour in the red wine and beef stock. Though the recipe doesn’t specify, I chose a Bordeaux, as I felt it fitting to use a wine from the region!
  • Add the herbs, one of the garlic cloves and some seasoning.
  • Bring to the boil before turning down to a simmer. Cover and cook gently for about 4 hours, until the meat is tender.
  • Once the meat is tender, strain a ladle of the cooking liquid into another saucepan and cook the shallots and remaining garlic until the shallots are soft and the liquid has reduced to a syrupy glaze.
  • Drain and steam the marrowbones, leave to cool before scooping out the marrow. Chop and set aside.
  • To serve, slice the ox cheeks, and serve with shallot glaze and the chopped marrow scattered on top.

We didn’t make too much effort with presentation as, having got back late from lunch out, it wasn’t ready until about 9pm and, having smelled the tantalising cooking aromas all afternoon, we were ravenous. So the various elements went onto the plate in somewhat haphazard distribution!

On the same page, the book provides a recipe for parsnip and white chocolate puree, to serve with the cheeks, but as that didn’t appeal, we didn’t make it.

The ox cheeks were incredibly tender and moist, absolutely gorgeous, though quite subtle in flavour. The shallots and glaze were superb.

The recipe leaves you with a lot of leftover cooking liquid . As we’d cooked enough for 2 meals, we kept the liquid in a second box in the fridge, with half the meat and the shallots in a first box. The next night, as well as re-heating the meat and shallots, we reduced lots more of the cooking liquid to make a beautifully unctuous, very richly flavoured sauce. This gave the meat an added punch of flavour, alongside the shallots, and next time I make this, I shall definitely do the same as it really lifted the dish another level.

On visiting a friend a couple of months ago, we were treated to a dessert of camembert with spiced tarte tatin apples, also from the book. Utterly delicious and I think it would be a lovely dessert after the ox cheeks.

Cuisinier Gascon is usually £25 but is currently available on Amazon (at time of posting) for just £14.90.

My thanks to Absolute Press for the review copy.

This was my first time cooking with ox cheeks and I am already thinking about recipes for the kilo left in the freezer.

Do you have any great ox cheek recipes?

Please do share them with me in the comments below or provide a link if they are available online. Thank you so much!

  7 Responses to “Cuisinier Gascon: Braised Ox Cheek Bordelaise”

  1. That looks like a fab book Kavey and your picture and description reminds me a bit of my new Pork and Sons book from Stephane Reynaud. Similarly full of interesting recipes and stories.

    The food looks great, and having discovered pig cheeks, i'm all for trying out the ox-y version. I love slow-slow-slow cooked beef, all that glutinous and wobbly meat and deep beefy taste. Delicious.

  2. I've been cooking with ox-cheeks from Waitrose through the winter, although they seem to have disappeared from their meat counter now – must remember to ask if it's seasonal or they just weren't selling enough to bother stocking them any more.

    What surprised me, the first time I tried them, was that they can be very tender within 2 hours, if cut into large cubes before cooking. I can't remember which recipe I tried the first time, but the total cooking time was much shorter than I expected, so I followed the instructions with some trepidation. Shouldn't have worried – they were wonderfully succulent. It was good to know they don't HAVE to be cooked slowly!

    I have a feeling my first attempt might have been based on this recipe:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/recipes/ox-cheek-and-mushroom-hot-pot-825049.html

  3. Kavey that sounds great – and I have been looking for a good Gascon cook book so I'll bear that one in mind

    StokeySue

  4. Sounds delicious, I am yet to try cheeks of any description but I intend to order them as soon as I find them on a menu. I obviously don't go the right places!

    I do however have a proper friendly butcher on the doorstep. I must ask him about them next time I see him.

  5. Wow this looks amazing – I have never tried ox cheeks but will see if my local butcher has them and give this a go!

  6. One of my favourite books from last year. You are bang on about the ingredient descriptions – I was reading about the Espelette pepper and was wondering where to get some, when I realised I'd got some mustard flavoured with them from the Real Food Festival last year.

    As for cooking ox cheeks – they make a good ragu, although you could just add some of the jus and shredded meat left over from your dish instead. My favourite way is Caribbean style – I grind up pepper, allspice, and a tiny bit of aniseed and mix with flour and some ground ginger to douse the meat in. Then after browning some sugar and butter in a casserole, I add the meat for browning, then add chopped spring onions, garlic, thyme and a whole scotch bonnet. Deglaze with a small bottle a mild beer and cook until tender. Add other vegetables and perhaps some dumplings. Delicious, especially with a drop of dark rum or port added in at the end.

  7. @Suelle – my Waitrose (West Ealing) had ox cheeks last weekend, so hopefully they'd just sold out when you were last there. They seem to be selling out of them and pig cheeks all the time now.

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