I am sometimes asked how I decide upon what food to serve to my guests. There is a simple answer to this: I don't. Usually, the decision is made for me, through various circumstances. In this case, I was sitting around scratching my head wondering what to serve for a main course. On my table, it had to be meat, no questions about that. But what kind of meat? Beef? Lamb? Pork? Quail?
I flipped through the Indoguna catalogue, and discovered that only a few items met my budget requirements, and out of these, I decided I wouldn't mind trying my hand at cooking veal cheeks, even though I'd never attempted them before.
Now, when you think veal cheeks, you think braised, but the trouble was, I'd never braised anything before. Not vegetables, not eel, and not veal cheeks. Still, once I had Googled a suitable recipe, it didn't seem very difficult.
Unfortunately, this isn't one of those magical recipes that can be followed word for word, measure for measure. With some amendments:
Ingredients (Serves 8)
16 veal cheeks (about 3kg)
4 onions, chopped
2 - 3 carrots, chopped
450g button mushrooms, sliced
4 tsp chopped garlic
1 cup Madeira wine
1 litre veal stock
1 cup red wine (optional)
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
The original recipe also included bacon, rather like cooking coq au vin, but I decided to dispense with that this time.
In a deep pot, saute the onions and carrots with some olive oil, until they're nice and soft, about 5 minutes or more depending on how you've cut them.
Add the garlic and the mushrooms and continue to cook. Personally I'd add the garlic even before the onions and carrots, but it doesn't really matter. Make sure nothing burns as the mushrooms are cooking.
It should only take another five minutes or so for the mushrooms to become nice and brown all over, whereupon they'll probably start exuding some juices.
Deglaze with Madeira (I used port since I didn't have Madeira handy), and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, allowing some of it to evaporate.
Add the veal stock and the herbs, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Once it's boiling, turn it down to a simmer.
Season the veal with salt and pepper and add it to the simmering liquid. The liquid should just about cover the veal. If it doesn't, add the red wine. Simmer, covered, until the cheeks are tender, about 1 - 2 hours. It's quite hard to overcook when braising and stewing, so just check once in a while after an hour and turn off the heat when you're satisfied. Make sure to stir the bottom occasionally, so that nothing burns. Don't worry if it seems like the cheeks are not getting soft; by the time you fish them out after two hours, if they still aren't tender, then you started with rocks.
Again, served with polenta, and again, the polenta didn't turn out very well. If anyone has a good polenta recipe, I want it!