French Classics: beef stew

Ragout, Daube, call it what you want – but take beef cheeks, if you can. I adore this kind of meat which is not highly regarded in a world where everybody goes for the so-called “noble” parts like steaks or fillets, and quick pan-frying or wok-ing is all we’ve still got time for. Yet the boeuf à braiser, as they call it in France, will take more time and bring greater pleasures, if you treat it right, with care, and at low temperatures.

Noble beef: slow-cooked cheeks are marvellous.

The above stew consists of only three ingredients (!): the beef cheeks, a lot of onions and some garlic. You just add salt and pepper, some fennel seeds if you like or some thyme, and that’s it. Well, not quite: I’ve marinated the meat in red wine with classic spices over night – and I added some of that liquid to the preparation before cooking.

Then I closed the pot, put it in the oven at 120°C (248°F) and forgot it for half a day, I didn’t touch it at all. After six hours the marvel unfolds. The kitchen will be filled with a magnificent perfume already. Now it’s tasting time and you don’t even need a knife: the cheeks that were so hard to cut when raw, have turned into tender, aromatic bites you won’t forget that fast. Which is logic; they’re slow food at its best. And a real French classic (in former times the meat was flambéed with Cognac before braising; I’m not a fan of that).

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