For those uninitiated to the deliciousness that is grass-fed beef, the texture often requires adjusted expectations after years of eating grain-fed beef. So for those ready to take the plunge but unsure where to start, stews and ground meat are the way to go. Here, beef cheeks, arguably the best expression of the flavor of a well-raised cow, is stewed at a relatively high temperature to yield a tender and familiar dish that is great any time of year.
- 2 pounds beef cheek, trimmed of excess fat and cut into large cubes (chuck and short rib work too)
- 1 quart chicken or beef stock
- 2 cups red wine
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
- (substitute fresh, peeled tomatoes if you have them)
- 1 cup carrots, diced
- 1 cup onion, diced
- ½ cup celery (optional)
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 tablespoons fat (bacon fat or lard is best, but olive or canola oil will do)
- 1 tablespoon vinegar (optional)
- Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425°.
Heat a Dutch oven (or any oven- safe pot or pan that has a tightfitting cover) over a medium-high flame. Add fat to hot pan. Sear cubes of beef in fat until they are just crusty on all sides (you may have to do this in batches). Remove seared beef and set aside.
Add carrots, onion and celery to the pan along with a little salt and pepper. Stir vegetables every minute or so, making an effort to scrape up any bits of beef stuck to the bottom of the pan. After vegetables are tender but haven’t taken color, add thyme, bay leaf and wine and bring to a boil.
When wine is reduced by approximately half, add tomatoes along with the juice in the can. Crush the tomatoes with a fork or spoon. Add some more salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes until tomato-wine mixture cooks down.
Add the beef and any juices that may have leaked out while it was set aside back to the pot. Pour in stock to come ¾ of the way up on the highest pieces of beef (if there’s already enough liquid in the pot, reduce tomato and red wine enough so that you can add at least half a quart of stock). Bring to a simmer, add vinegar if using and cover. (If pot doesn’t have a tight lid, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the pot and cover that with the lid to get a good seal.)
Place in oven for 1½–2 hours, checking after an hour for tenderness and adjusting seasoning along the way. When meat is tender, remove bay leaf and thyme stems and enjoy.
Will yield 4 generous portions.
Serve with buttered noodles, spaetzle or mashed potatoes.