Who doesn't love a good old stew? The rich deep flavour, the tenderness of the meat and vegetables make for the perfect comfort food to warm your soul on a dreary day. With autumn just around the corner for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the changing of the seasons marks a welcome return of hearty comfort food that comes in hand with the arrival of the colder temperatures. Out with the light summery salads, in with the warm soups, stews and casseroles. Naturally, at the first drop in the excessively hot temperatures that we have been experiencing of late, we felt like it was a great occasion to make a beef stew. However, a stew isn't typically one of the most exciting dishes out there. We felt like a change from the usual Beef Bourgignon, so we thought about trying a new take on a classic and by using some local produce, sprucing up the classic beef stew. And decided on trying 'joue de boeuf braisée au cidre' translating to English as 'braised beef cheek in cider'. This dish is much more than just a regular beef stew. It is inspired by the flavours of Norman cuisine, adding a touch of French sophistication to a wholesome braised beef stew. When we made it for the first time, we were astonished by the flavour of the cider in the sauce, but also by the cut of beef. The cider we used was produced locally from a village just down the road. It is always nice to support local farmers. I believe that the quality and variety of cider that use will greatly impact the flavour of your dish as we found out. Back to the beef cheek and I can honestly say that I have never had beef so tender! We asked our local butcher to trim the beef cheek for us, which is highly recommended because there can be a lot of excess sinew on this cut, so this will save you a lot of time. Although the beef does need to be left to rest in the cider overnight then cooked for a few hours the next day, it is actually a minimum-effort dish in terms of preparation with maximum flavour. I am certainly no Gordon Ramsey yet I managed to get it right, which goes to show that anyone can do it. We used herbs from our garden in the bouquet garni, which is a french culinary term for a bundle of herbs that are tied together like a bouquet and then added to flavour dishes, typically stews, sauces and soups. We used bay leaf, rosemary and thyme in ours.
We served the braised beef casserole with a french side dish called 'gratin dauphinois' also known as potato dauphinois. A gratin dauphinois is a delicious way to prepare a potatoes with a touch of french je-ne-sais-quoi. It basically consists of layers of thinly-sliced potatoes and cream, then typically topped with cheese and baked in the oven. It might not be a dish for dieters, but yet again, the majority of the most delicious dishes aren't! I highly recommend that you try making this and the time put into it is well worth it. We didn't have any double cream so we used 250g of creme fraiche and added a splash of milk, then combined the two together to achieve a more liquid and pourable version of creme fraiche. You can click here to watch the video where I attempt to cook this dish on my YouTube channel. So without further ado, here's the recipe.
Braised Beef Cheek with Cider, served with gratin dauphinois
Cooking time: Over 3 hours
For the braised beef cheek
1 kg (2,2 lbs) of beef cheek, trimmed (to be marinated overnight)
3 onions, diced
3 carrots, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
70 g (1,75 oz) of tomato purée
500 ml (1,25 cups) of beef stock
125 g (0,5 cups) of butter
70 cl (3 cups) of cider
1 bouquet garni
parsley and crème fraîche for garnish
serve with mashed potatoes or gratin dauphinoise
For the gratin dauphinois
1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
450g (1lbs) of potatoes
300 ml (1/2 pint) of double cream
grated cheddar cheese
Cut the beef into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the cider and the bouquet garni then cover and place in the fridge, leaving it to marinate overnight.
The next day, remove the meat pieces from the cider and drain them. Keep the cider and the herbs.
Season the meat with salt and pepper then fry off in a casserole, with half of the butter, turning the pieces once they are golden on each side, then remove the meat from the pan and place on a plate. You may need to do this in batches. Turn the Casserole off the heat. (You can boil the water and make the stock if you are using stock cubes during this time.)
Cut up the vegetables. Fry off the onion with the rest of the butter in the casserole for 3 minutes over a medium heat until they start to become translucent, then add the carrot and garlic, frying for a further 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the tomato purée and the beef to the casserole, then add the beef stock, the cider and the bouquet garni.
Season the casserole with a good pinch of salt and pepper, stir, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 3 hours until the beef is tender.
During this time prepare the gratin dauphinois. Preheat your oven to 170°C or 325°F. Take a medium-sized oven dish and rub liberally with the garlic. Peel then thinly slice the potatoes. Next, cover the base of the oven dish with one layer of potatoes, season and cover with some of the cream. Repeat this process until all the potatoe slices have been used, and add the remaining cream. Then, add the grated cheese before baking in the oven for 1 hour and twenty minutes.
Serve the braised beef and gratin dauphinoise then garnish with the fresh parsley and a dollop of crème fraîche. Bon appetit!