Things like beef cheeks seem to always be on my mind when I want to eat something “exotic”. Most of my friends think I’m crazy for eating the head portion of any animal. Again, these are the friends who think meat with bones is exotic. You can’t ding me too much on wanting the strange parts because the strange parts have all the flavor…just like in the onglet. The onglet isn’t as exotic as face but you can only get it if you special order it or know of a butcher that saves those pieces for you.
So now I’m craving beef cheeks. The train of thought was December, Christmas, Dinner, what can we serve that’s different, German invasion of France, France ran out of food, Ratatouille, they ate the animals in the zoo, and what was on that menu. Yes, it was a long train of thought but now I’m hungry. Well, not so hungry after learning what animals were in the zoo and what Alexandre Étienne Choron decided to make for dinner.
A little more history, German invaded France, beat up Napoleon, and now France was starving. The residents ate their dogs, their cats, and moved onto rats. While the rats seems like a normal staple, the zoo was running out of money to maintain the health of the animals and decided they had to put them down. And then this is where Choron comes into the story and decides to make a meal to remember. The menu included things like elephant soup, stuffed donkey head, kangaroo somethings, and bear steaks. For some reason, the lions and hippos were off the list. Apparently hippos and lions were off the list.
Would I eat it? Not sure. I think they also served roasted cats surrounded by rats. I guess I do have a limit on the things I would or would not eat. I’m putting peacocks on this list of things that I wouldn’t eat. As much as birds are birds, I’m not sure I could do it. But I would do beef cheek. The best way I’ve had it prepared is by braising it until tender. Here’s one of my recipes.
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 (12-oz) beef cheeks, trimmed of excess fat
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 (your favorite red wine)
1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes including juice, chopped (3 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
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, season with salt and pepper and dust with the flour. Brown beef, without crowding, on all sides, about 20 minutes total, 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. Bring to a simmer, then braise, covered, in middle of oven until very tender, about 3 hours.
Personally, I like mine with bread to soak up the sauce or a golden mashed potato.