Saturday, June 4, 2016

Carrilleras de ternera adapted from a recipe by Chef Arguiñano (and translated by the Kastila)

Beef cheeks or carrilleras de vaca are not readily available.  While it's a relatively inexpensive cut 
of meat, one has to order it in advance from a butcher who has access to freshly slaughtered cows.  
Last week, at AANI our neighbourhood week-end farmers' market, I finally found someone who could do just that for me.  Mang Dante took my order for 2 kilos of beef cheeks and delivered them the very next week.  

Here is a photo of carrilleras de ternera, as I first fell in love with it at Ojeda's,  a restaurant in Burgos, Spain.   It's that dark brown stew in the middle which may not look like much but was 
just so deeply delicious.   Since that first taste, I vowed I would try and make it one day. 
Now that Mang Dante had procured 2 hefty kilos of beef cheeks for me, I  could finally try and 
make this dish in my kitchen.

Step 1

The first step to making this dish is to clean up the beef cheeks.  
I made a mistake and did not ask Mang Dante to remove the gristle, fat and bones which came attached to the meat. It took me quite some time to get them to the clean state you see above -- 
I did not have the really sharp knives which would have made removing the fat so much easier. 
Because the cow's cheeks are constantly moving as the animal chews cud constantly -- there are a 
lot of connective tissues and sinews that make the meat tough BUT these sinews and muscles will melt into the meat  if properly cooked for a slow loooong time. 

When you google "carrilleras de ternera" you get pages and pages of recipes from chefs and
home cooks including how-to videos -- just one small hiccup, they are all in Spanish.
I have only retained "donde es la biblioteca" from those 4 semesters of college Spanish so I had
to frantically translate the ingredients.
For the instructions on how to cook the dish, I asked my dear friend, the Kastila (yes, he really is one)  to just explain the process to me.
The ingredients for Carrilleras al Vino Tinto from a recipe by renowned Basque chef and restaurateur Karlos Arguiñano are : beef cheeks or carrilleras, chopped yellow onions, garlic, chopped leeks, carrots, red wine, olive oil and fresh rosemary.
Tip: fresh rosemary costs from P62 to P115 for a small amount (maybe 50 grams).  At the AANI week-end market, 3 pots of the herb cost just P100 and they're pretty easy to grow and keep.
I now keep a small pot in the kitchen -- it has a pleasant sharp, pine-like scent too.

Step 2

Season beef cheeks with salt and pepper (if desired) then lightly dredge them in flour, shaking off any excess.  Fry in olive oil at medium heat for a few minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from pan and set aside. 

Step 3

In the same pan, sauté the garlic, onions, leeks, carrots, scraping the beef bits from the pan.  
After vegetables have been cooked but not softened, transfer the mixture to a deeper pot and 
then add the previously fried beef cheeks and cover with red wine and water at a proportion 
of 1 : 1.   I used a malbec from Argentina, a fruity full bodied dark red wine (yes, drinking while cooking is permitted).   Simmer till beef cheeks are tender.
Tip: Señor Arguiñano cooked his carrilleras in a pressure cooker so it took him just 45 minutes to tenderise the meat.  I used a gas stove so it took me more than three hours to get the carrilleras to 
fork-tender state.

And that's it!  Carrilleras al vino tinto in 3 easy steps!

If I had the foresight to ask Mang Dante to clean up the cheeks, it would have taken just 2 easy steps.
Señor Arguiñano recommends that when the beef cheeks are tender, the sauce with all the vegetables be pureed in a blender and then poured over the meat as a gravy.  
I skipped that part and just served the stew as is.  
He also recommends serving this with mashed potatoes but I just fried up some potato wedges 
and served it with rice.   The texture was as meltingly smooth as lengua or ox tongue but the taste was more complex and definitely richer.   So delicioso if I may say so myself!
Tip: this dish actually tastes better after two or three days so keep some in the the freezer for later.

Buen provecho!

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