I eat meat. I have no intention of giving that up any time soon. I understand that for me to eat meat, an animal loses its life. The best way to respect that sacrifice is to use every bit of the animal and not allow any of it to go to waste.
That being said, strange cuts scare me. I’m happy to eat them; I just prefer someone else prepare them. I am grossed out by the texture of liver and cutting up a heart would feel more like a middle school science project than a culinary adventure. Apart from throwing some chicken feet in my stock, I’ve avoided all of the unusual cuts.
A few weeks ago I stumbled across a recipe for barbacoa – Caribbean barbecue. Traditions vary, but in America it is typical to use meat from the head of a cow. The recipe I found called for beef cheek. I was hesitant, but the recipe had rave reviews and had actually won a “nose-to-tail recipe competition” so I figure it would be a good place to start. I called up my sister to see if she and her husband would be willing to eat it if I made it. She said “why not” and we set a date.
Lest anyone is confused, beef cheek is in fact cheek. I know it seems like I’m stating the obvious, but on a pig, Boston butt is actually the shoulder. So you never know. Anyone who’s spent time with cows knows they spend a good part of their life chewing which means their cheeks get a good work out. Muscles that get a lot of use tend to be tough and are best braised – cooked for a long time in liquid at a lower temperature. That is exactly what the recipe called for. I marinated the cheeks overnight and then cooked them for 3.5 hours until they were falling apart.
I started by marinating the cheeks overnight. The marinade was a mix of pepper, olive oil, honey, cumin, coffee, peanut butter, garlic, paprika and cilantro. It sounds weird, but it was really good. I also made pickled onions to go with it. All of that sat for almost 24-hours in the fridge.
After marinate, I seared the cheeks and then everything went into the dutch over with some stock and lime juice and then into the oven for the better part of the afternoon. By the time Joel arrived at 7:00 the meat was falling apart just like the recipe said it should be. I shredded the meat and mixed it up with the sauce to create a juicy taco filling. We went with lettuce wraps instead of tortillas which I think allowed the flavor of the beef and onions to shine.
We topped the tacos with the onions, avocado and cilantro. They were delicious! Really, really good. Manda and Joel both loved them. The recipe is definitely a keeper. Give it a try. If you can get your hands on some cheek, do it. Check with your local butcher. If not, any tougher beef cut should work. But seriously, you should make this. Of all the beef products I’ve tried, this is my favorite, hands down.