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. I find it’s illustrated 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.
I also 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!
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 are stocked by 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 drove that home to me once again. Eventually, I was able to buy 2 kilos of meaty ox cheeks, using half to make this braised ox cheese recipe.
I made my beef stock night before, roasting 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
- 1 kg ox cheeks
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 100 g sugar
- 750 ml red wine
- 500 ml beef stock
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 500 g shallots , halved
- 2 marrow bones , soaked in cold water for 2-3 hours
In a saucepan (large enough to hold the cheeks, stock and win), 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 shallows and remaining garlic until the shallots are soft and the liquid has reduced to a syurpy glaze.
Drain and steam the marrow bones, 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 the dish wasn’t ready until 9pm and we were ravenous.
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.
My thanks to Absolute Press for the review copy of Cuisinier Gascon by Pascal Aussignac.