Beef Cheeks Sous Vide. With Failure Comes Wisdom.

Pretty well every quotation about failure makes a virtue of it. None of us set out to hash things up. So, why celebrate it? When I set about preparing beef cheeks sous vide, making a bags of it was far from my objective. But, with the beef in a bag, a bags was made and I’m not overjoyed.

I did learn from the experience. Hopefully, I can pass on the wisdom gained by my relative failing, so as you can achieve perfection.. I think that I erred in two ways. Firstly, at 60ºC, the temperature of the water was not high enough to break down the connective tissues in the cheeks. This led to the meat (which was very tasty, if a little dry) being perfectly cooked but difficult to eat (There is a lot of connective stuff in a beef cheek).

The second issue, I believe, is the cooking method. I have cooked cheeks sous vide before and they have been reasonably tasty. However, they really don’t compare to long braised cheeks, cooked over five to six hours in a low to moderate oven. That way, the connective stuff all breaks down and adds a lovely unctuous element to the dish. This time, sous vide just didn’t do this. Like the cow that owned the cheeks before I did, I have a lot of ruminating to do on this one.

Side note on cooking methods: I am a big fan. I love the simplicity of preparation and the wonderful results that can (usually) be achieved. However, I also love the aroma of cooking that permeates the house when I have a slow braise going on.

In truth, it was a very tasty dish. So, if you want to give this a go, do so. But be prepared to do a lot of slicing. Perhaps cooking at a higher temperature would make a difference? Perhaps….

Ingredients

  • Two beef cheeks
  • Butter
  • Salt (I used smoked sea salt)
  • Pepper corns
  • Aromatic herb (I used rosemary)
  • An onion or two
  • 500 ml of beef stock (homemade if possible)
  • A generous glass of good red wine
  • A roux of butter and flour to thicken the sauce
  • Salt and pepper to season the sauce

Method

Season the beef with the salt and peppercorns (I left them whole). Add a lump or two of butter and a sprig of rosemary.

How could this not turn out to be delightful?

Seal and place in a water bath for 48 hours at 60ºC.

Aromatic added. I really thought this would be a delight.

Make a sauce with the onion, stock and wine. First heat some oil in a small pan and add the onion. Sweat it until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the stock and wine. Reduce by two thirds. Season to taste. Add the roux a little at a time to get the desired consistency. One can sieve the sauce at this stage or keep the onions in for texture and taste. I left them in this time.

Remove the beef from the water bath. Here’s how mine looked.

Not the prettiest looking piece of beef I have showed you.

Remove from the bags and pat it dry.

At this stage, the meat felt a little firm for my preference.

Brown it on a frying pan and carve. Serve it with some nice potatoes.

The sauce was lovely. As was the beef, if a little too full of connective stuff.

Despite my comments above, we really enjoyed this dish. I just can’t help thinking it would have been even better if I had gone a more traditional route. I suppose there is only one way to find out. So, as soon as the autumn leaves start to fall in Dublin, I will get out my casserole dish and find out if I have learned anything from this (relative) failure.

How could anything this good looking not be a triumph?

In conclusion, I think I have gained some wisdom. I have learned that even if not perfect, a dish may be very tasty indeed. Though, I would like some comments from sous viders so I can learn how to improve.

Written by
Latest comments
  • That is a tricky one – I think I’d definitely prefer it braised in a sauce with onions and garlic.

  • The true wisdom, I feel, lies in learning from your less outstanding offerings. I doubt I’d have called it a fail, merely a work in progress. But then I don’t have your culinary standards to live up to… thank the Lord!

  • A smart man (or woman!) learns from their mistakes. A wise man (or woman!) learns from mistakes made by others. So thank you for the Public Service Announcement, Conor, it helps us all. I hadn’t considered cooking beef cheeks sous vide before, but I am now. A quick google shows a few people prefer a hotter, shorter cook, at 81c for 9 hours or so. This, plus your onion and wine sauce, would pair nicely with my pressure-cooked potato, carrot and onion rustic mash, although I might try substituting leek for the onion in both for some extra sweetness. That’s Sunday dinner sorted 🙂

      • Conor, I currently have beef cheeks warming my belly from inside as per my previous reply; I put them in the water bath before work this morning, served them up after getting home some 10 hour later. I don’t normally pre-sear beef but you will absolutely need to with cheeks, you’ll have no chance of getting them in a pan otherwise without them falling apart completely, the meat is soooo soft. The mash was great too, electronic pressure cookers are a modern marvel, and I bagged the cheeks with rosemary and large-ish chunks of butter which meant lots of bag-juice to make sauce with, unfortunately I only had dry white wine to hand so it was a little bitter, plus I didn’t give it enough time to reduce enough. All in all a very hearty winter warmer that’s now in my recipe book, thanks mate! FYI beef cheeks are NOT a cheap cut in Western Australia, I got mine from a quality butcher at AU$17/kilo.

          • Conor, I found that 81c for 10 hours (while I was at work) was good, but given the opportunity I would go for 9 hours instead.

            I have a Tefal Cook4me, it’s expensive for a pressure cooker but it’s fully automatic with lots of built-in safety features. The on-board computer comes with a fair few recipes but I ignore those and use it on ‘manual’ instead, truly a marvellous machine that has earned it’s space on my countertop.

  • They still look pretty good to me. Although I have to agree, I love the smell from slow braised meat.

  • Those are some beautiful cheeks! I’m such a fan of sous vide, but typically only use the method for cuts that don’t end up as a braise or stew. Maybe that’s the difference. Like I wouldn’t sous vide beef that would end up as beef bourguignon. I would prefer to start the process in the morning, and spend the day preparing all of the parts and enjoying the smells. But then, I’m old, and also a traditionalist. A beautiful cheeky dish indeed!

  • Those are gorgeous beef cheeks, even if a bit tough. I’m in agreement with you on the sous vide cooking temp. I find that tough cuts of meat need to cook at least 8 to 12 hours at around 155F to 160F (that would be about 68 F to 71C) to break down the connective tissues. I pretty much sous vide every day of the week for my cart, and have done a LOT of experimenting with times and temps on different cuts of beef and pork. Be that as it may, I also totally agree about the aromas of a nice slow braise in the oven!

  • Hi Conor, I’ve had a similar experience with beef shanks. Breaking down connective tissue is a function of both time and temperature. I have not tackled beef cheeks, but my guesstimate would be 96 hours at 60C as that works for oxtail, or 24 hours at 74C for a more traditional flaky texture. The risk of drying out is higher with an oven braise. Thanks for sharing your experience, as it helps me making a better guesstimate.

  • Love beef cheeks and so agree with everything in Simon’s comment. Cheeks actually on menu for later in the week: shall copy your ingredients faithfully but the dish will be definitely cooked in the oven and fill my cottage for hours with incredible aromas. [Off topic: found the just ended TdF not as exciting as in previous years with Porte out early tog with other luminaries, Quintana disappointing and Contador showing but few flashes of former brilliance. We heard a lot of Dan Martin interviews and he did so well, even if not the way you had hoped . . . ]

  • Having enjoyed unctuous tasty tender slow braised beef cheeks with parsnip mash just last night I feel your disappointment at having put in the effort of purchase, prep and cooking only to get let down at the finishing post. I have no advice, except if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…

  • I think that’s the great thing about cooking. No matter how long you’ve been doing it, you can always learn something.

      • Absolutely and the best part is you get to eat the results. Well, most of the time it’s the best part.

Join the conversation, you know you want to....

%d bloggers like this: