Braised Ox Cheek topped with Mac n Cheese
'Holy Mama Mia! Whatsa-going-ona-here-a?? It's just like-a all ma Christmases! They all come at once-a!'
Said absolutely no one at the dinner table. Because if they did, my family would have all surely morphed into puppets with terrible cod-Italian accents. Just like from that Dolmio advert. Which, incidentally, really annoys me whenever it pops up on the screen. Especially Papa. What I would give to be able to leap through that screen and to take him out, leaving a naked hand flapping away in the wind. I don't mind all the felt and spurious familial set up, to promote what in essence, is a fake product. But what I do mind is that oafish old idiot in the straw hat, who praises Mama every single bloody time for her cooking at the end.
'Ah Mama, how-a do you make-a dinnah so delicious?'
SHE GETS IT OUT OF A JAR OR A PACKET, YOU FRIGGING SIMPLETON! GOD, IF YOU DIDN'T SPEND SO MUCH TIME WITH YOUR CHICKENS IN THE GARDEN AND WANDERED INTO THE KITCHEN AND MAYBE HELPED OUT ONCE IN A WHILE, YOU WOULDN'T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH BOWLS OF OVERLY SWEET, HOMOGENIZED GLOOP AND PRETEND THAT YOU LIKE IT!
Blimey, he makes me mad.
Anyway, this post is supposed to be about a brilliant dish I made the other day (for Mother's Day as it happened) which was braised ox cheek topped with mac 'n' cheese. The coos of approval that were uttered once it came out of the oven, were fairly akin to the first sentence of this post. With more of a Cockney/Essex twang, in place of melodic Italiano. Yet as the forks got stuck in, recognisable words sort of disappeared altogether into the ether, to be replaced by more guttural sounding noises and the odd burp, as plates returned for second helpings.
The recipe doesn't require that much effort, nor does it represent a massive leap of imagination. It really is just cheesy pasta on top of slow cooked beef and I realise that a carb-heavy load set upon a morass of silken, wobbly meat is not the healthiest of offerings. But the payback in sheer pleasure is immense and there are carrots in there too. So you do get some vitamins.
After posting a pic on Instagram, ginandcrumpets, who does a fine line in quirky recipes and musings on Hogarth's favourite botanical spirit, made the observation that it was like I had baked a heart attack and made it delicious. I am happy with that.
And besides, a packet of Rennie normally straightens me out afterwards.
Braised Ox Cheek topped with Mac n Cheese - serves 10 (or 8 greedy people)
1.5kg ox cheek
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 whole garlic, sliced in half
2 bay leaves
Large spring of thyme
350mls beef stock
350mls red wine
600mls whole milk
150gms mature Cheddar, grated
150gms Emmental cheese, grated
100gms mozzarella, grated
40gms plain flour
1 tbs English mustard
Rapeseed oil, for frying
Salt and pepper, to season.
Heat your oven to 140C and take your cheeks and give them a good looking over. Your beef cheeks I mean. Not your bum cheeks. Trim any fatty membrane that may still remain and cut them in two. Season with salt and pepper and then place a pan on the hob, over a medium heat and add splash of oil. Fry off the cheeks in batches and place to one side. Preferably on a plate. Not say, on top of a pile of clean washing, or a council tax bill.
Next, do the same with your vegetables, frying them off nice and slowly, until they caramelise a touch. I am always keen to stress this process, so caramelise, caramelise, caramelise. And also add your herbs in towards the end so that they begin to release their herby oils. Transfer the vegetables to a casserole and then lay the ox cheeks on top. Deglaze the frying pan that did all the frying, and therefore should have some lovely crispy bits stuck to it, by pouring the red wine in and scrap around with a wooden spoon, over a heat. Bring the wine to the boil and then pour over the meat. Then pour over the beef stock and place a lid on top and pop into the oven for four hours. So that the meat, veg, wine and stock all conflabulate together, in perfect harmony.
When done, leave to cool for a while and then drain the tender ox cheeks and veg through a colander. Using a bowl underneath of course, to collect the stock. Don't forget that. Pick out the bay leaves and strands of thyme stalk and place the meat and veg into a lasagna dish and give it a little shredding, so that it covers the base completely. Put the leftover stock into pan and reduce by a two-thirds and pour that over the top too. Try not to eat.
Now is the time to make the mac n cheese part. So first, crank the oven up to 180C, fill the kettle up and turn it on. Once boiled, pour into a saucepan, place on the hob, again over a medium heat, so that it bubbles up some more and throw your macaroni. Reduce and cook the pasta through for about 10 minutes or according to instructions on the packet. Once done, drain in a colander but don't worry about collecting the water. Unless you like to keep some pasta water on the go, at all times.
To make the cheesy sauce, grab yet another saucepan and place on the hob, over that same old medium heat. Pop the butter in there and wait for it to melt and foam and then toss in the flour and immediately start stirring with a whisk. Continue to do so for a minute or two, until the flour cooks out and the roux becomes biscuit in colour and then start to add the milk. You could warm the milk up first. You could also add a bay leaf to the milk, to impart some extra flavour. But sometimes it's just not worth the bother. Add the milk slowly as first, whisking so that it incorporates and thickens to a paste and then pour the damn lot in. Keeping whisking over a heat, it will thicken. Promise.
When your white sauce is good to go, add your Cheddar and Emmental gratings and stir in until they melt. Add the English mustard and then thwang in the macaroni and mix everything together. Taste once more for seasoning (you might need some more pepper, rather than salt) and dollop the mac over the shredded beef. The beef that you've managed to not eat (except for maybe a nibble). Once you've spread it all over and covered the meat completely, sprinkle a merry shower of mozzarella over the top and slam in it the oven for 30 minutes, until the pasta topping is crisp and the juices come fizzing to the surface.
Serve with a radish salad. Or something vaguely nutritious.