Beef Cheek Confit with Caramelized Turnips

Confit of beef cheek crisped on the outside

I was recently asked what my favourite thing about New York is. Anyone who’s lived here, knows that there’s a lot to like, but one of the things that makes it unique for me is that you can walk down almost any block and witness something you would never see any other place on Earth. Last month, I was heading out to get my hair cut in NoHo, when the gleaming white interior of this Japanese butcher shop caught my eye. If it weren’t odd enough that this place that deals in animal carcasses looked like it had jumped off the pages of Dwell Magazine, this butcher only sells Wagyu Beef that’s raised on a certain ranch in Oregon… Only in New York.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Wagyu beef, the term refers to several breeds of cattle that tend to have an obscene amount of fat marbled into the meat. The marbling is further coaxed along with special feed and other things like beer and regular massages. Yes, you read that right, they actually booze up the bovines and hire big burly masseuses to give the cows a daily rub-down.

The terms Kobe, Mishima, and Omi are areas in Japan where Wagyu is raised. But since Japan doesn’t have a ton of land, much of the feed that’s used to raise the cattle is imported from the US. Since it takes much more feed to raise a cow than the cow itself weighs, this is a horribly inefficient way of doing things.

Some genius figured out that land here is much cheaper, and that it would cost a lot less to just raise the cattle here, butcher them, and send the meat back to Japan. Enter, Japan Premium Beef, the first US retail outlet for the ranch that’s been supplying some of the best restaurants here in the US with their Wagyu.

Wagyu beef cheek waiting to be confited

Unable to resist the temptations of the many cuts of beef splayed out in the stainless steel case, but not wanting to spend my entire paycheck, I ended up settling for a variety of “lesser” cuts of beef including these beef cheeks. The moment I laid eyes on this pair of medallions, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them and I asked Yamamoto-san, the butcher, if he could sell me a few pounds of beef fat. He gave me a shy smile, apologized, and politely informed me that they didn’t sell the fat. Maybe he saw the disappointment on my face, but he turned around, picked up a knife, and lopped off a huge chunk of fat, which he wrapped up and added to my bag for free!

Luckily you don’t have to live in New York to pick up beef cheek and a couple pounds of fat. While I doubt you’ll be seeing either at Costco anytime soon, get friendly with your local butcher, and you should be able to get them to save you a few cheeks and some scraps of fat.

Beef Confit on a bed of caramelized turnips

The technique for this is similar to duck confit. First the meat is cured in a salt and spices for a couple of days to draw out excess moisture and season the meat. Then, the meat is added to a pot of its own fat and cooked slow and low until all that’s holding the meat together is a melty matrix of collagen. The obscenely rich and tender meat is then seared on both sides in a hot cast iron pan, which gives it a nice caramelized crust.

As much as I loved the beef cheek confit, I have to say the real star of this dish was the caramelized turnip and garlic scape throne the beef sat upon. The veggies were fried in the same pan I seared the beef in, then I added a bit of the concentrated beef juice that’s a byproduct of the confit process. Some sugar and soy sauce then go in, turning the liquid into a shiny brown glaze that can be best described as beef candy.

Because the beef cheeks are so rich, you could really get away with serving half a cheek per person. I ended up having leftover confit, which I threw back into the fat, and tucked away in the fridge for something special. When sealed under a layer of its own fat, it will literally last for weeks (even longer if you freeze it). Of course it didn’t take long before inspiration struck in the form of this bibimbap.

Beef Cheek Confit on top of Bibimbap

If Korean food isn’t how you roll, you could also turn the leftover beef cheek confit into a decadent sandwich with some caramelized onions, a delicious pasta with gorgonzola, or just about anything else that works well with tender meat.

Beef Cheek Confit with Caramelized Turnips

for confit
2 whole beef cheeks
1/4 C soy sauce
1/4 C sugar
6 whole cloves
1/2 tsp five spice powder
3 cloves garlic smashed
4 C rendered beef fat

for caramelized turnips
4 small turnips trimmed and cut into 1/4″ cubes
10 baby garlic scapes chopped
2 tsp sugar
1/4 C beef juice from confit
1 tsp soy sauce

Put the soy sauce, sugar, cloves, five spice powder, and garlic in a gallon sized freezer bag and shake to the combine. Add the beef cheeks and seal the bag, squeezing out as much air as you can. Let this cure in the fridge for 2-3 days.

To make the confit, just melt the rendered beef fat it a heavy bottomed pot with a lid that’s just big enough to hold the beef cheeks and fat. Put this into an oven preheated to 200 degrees F and cook until a fork easily passes through the meat (about 4-6 hours). Remove the pot from the oven and allow it to come to room temperature, then refrigerate the beef cheek covered in the fat until you are ready to use it (it will last several weeks this way).

On the day you want to eat the confit, take it out of the fridge and gently heat just enough to liquify the fat so you can get the beef cheeks out.

In a sautee pan, heat about a tablespoon of beef fat until hot. Add the turnips and fry until they just start turning tender. Add the sugar and garlic scapes and stir fry until the sugar starts to turn brown and caramelize. Add the beef juice and soy sauce and let it reduce until it forms a thick brown glaze over the turnips and garlic scapes.

While the turnips are cooking, heat a cast iron pan over medium heat until very hot then add the beef cheeks. Allow the confit to brown undisturbed until you have a nice crisp layer on one side then flip and brown on the other side.

Serve the beef cheek confit on top of the bed of caramelized turnips and garlic scapes.

  • http://souvlakiforthesoul.com/ Peter G

    Wow Marc! I am salivating just looking at this! I've never made a confit before and I have to say your instructions make it look easy. This is absolutely beautiful!

  • PeterM

    Marc, that middle pic of the meat cut open with only a fork is the money-shot…great cut of beef turned into Turkish delight (loukoumi).

  • http://myfabulousrecipes.blogspot.com/ Sook

    Oh wow the bibimbap looks super delicious! Yum!! A great idea to use your leftovers to create bibimbap. :)

  • http://www.honeyfromrock.blogspot.com/ Claudia

    Awesome recipe. If I can find those cheeks, I'll definitely make it. Would so love to see a picture of those contented, blissed out cows getting their massage.

  • http://www.glutenfreegourmand.blogspot.com/ Gina

    Dang.

    That looks good. Where exactly in Oregon is this beef grown? Maybe I'll go down to the ranch and buy a cow for myself.

  • http://www.sospiffy.com/ Girl Japan

    Love the plating darling.. OMG, it looks so delish, the photography looks freak'n fantastic.

  • http://trissalicious.com/ Trissa

    I've never heard of beef cheeks confit – but I can imagine it being packed with flavour and so tender! Where did you get the beef fat from?! Only in NYC! Can you re-use it like duck fat? Beef fat potatoes?! :)

  • http://manggy.blogspot.com/ Manggy

    Ain't nothing “lesser” about those cheeks, Marc – in your hands, they are works of art.

  • zenchef

    Marc, i'm losing sleep over this beef cheek confit.
    And i'm telling everyone about the Japanese butcher shop.
    See what you have started? :)

  • norecipes

    I got it from the butcher for free:-) You could reuse it, but honestly
    beef fat has a flavour that's a bit too strong for my tastes.

  • http://kitchensidecar.blogspot.com/ katiek

    christ. beef cheek confit and you had me. throw in wagyu and i think you're just gloating. I saw my fried 100% wagyu in hong kong (no angus cross-breeding). It was epic. It was also almost all white. who knew wagyu had such little meat? fatsos. ;)

  • danielle_bonvivant

    What a great use for an under-rated cut, I bet it elevated your Bibimbap to a new level of sophistication! Loving your blog and the non-recipes you're sharing.

  • http://www.sense-serendipity.com/ Divina

    This is a brilliant and inspiring dish.

  • http://cookingrookie.blogspot.com/ Cooking Rookie

    Looks absolutely delicious, so soft and tender. I am bookmarking this.

  • Hugh Morton

    Costco may not carry em'. But the Sam's Clubs in Dallas are startint to. You are gonna get a big bag of them however.

  • Jen

    I just found your recipe last week (after bringing home beef cheeks on a whim); loved it! The surprise hit, though, were the turnips. We opened a Belgian Christmas ale and felt like we were enjoying a medieval feast. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/justpickone Mike C

    This looks so amazing! I’m heading over to the Japanese butcher shop tomorrow, i really hope they still have some cheeks, If not, any other cut of “lesser” wagyu you would suggest doing this with.

    • Anonymous

      This would also work well with really well marbled short ribs.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Mike, regular short ribs would work too.

      Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

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  • Brett

    Well…… some things do happen in the rest of the world. Beef Cheeks are always available at the largest supermarket chain here in Australia. US$6 a kilo (less than $3 a pound!).

    I’ve done beef cheeks before in a slow cooker. I liked them but the family couldn’t get past the fact they were cheeks. Will try the confit. Thanks.

    • Elliott

      had the same issue with mine. Try slow cooking them in wine as per usual, then shredding through a rich tomato sauce for a ragu pasta topped with parmigiana. Tricks them every time.

  • Rick Bushell

    This is the first time ever I have posted on a cooking site. Just love the way Marc cooks (so real) and particularly the way you convey your experience and recipes. I’m looking forward to trying the recipes from this site. My mouth is already drooling. I came across some beef cheeks and will try this dish very soon.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Rick, thanks for leaving a note! Good luck with the beef cheeks and let me know if you run into any troubles.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rickaroonie Rick Bushell

        I dont think I will run into any trouble but thanks for the concern. I actually prepared the cheeks for tonights dinner. Couldn’t get any garlic scapes but substituted with green beans. Tonights the night, the true test, will let you know what the guests think..

        • http://www.facebook.com/rickaroonie Rick Bushell

          Turned out to be a very successful dinner! I forgot to mention, I used canola oil as I didn’t have any beef fat for rendering. I actually forgot the cheeks when in the oven and they cooked for 7.25 hrs!! Talk about melt in the mouth! This was a very easy dish to make. It just takes time, but you can do other things while cheeks are marinating and cooking. This may become another signature dish for me. My guests (other foodies) loved it. Thanks agian Marc.

          • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

            Glad to hear it worked out for you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jboydmorin Jen Boyd-Morin

    I know this is an older recipe, but hoping you will see this. I’m thinking of making the caramelized turnips to go with a confited pork belly I’m serving this weekend, but I’m paleo so I don’t cook with sugar. Do you think the recipe would work as well with honey and if so, how much should I use? Also, any suggestions for a replacement for the garlic scapes since they’re not in season right now? Thanks!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Yep, honey will work fine. Honey is slightly sweeter than sugar, but this recipe has a small enough quantity you probably aren’t going to notice the difference by replacing it 1 for 1. As for the garlic scapes, you could just use some chopped garlic instead. If you want some color, add some scallions.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jboydmorin Jen Boyd-Morin

        Thanks. I used an equal amount of honey, and coconut aminos to replace the soy sauce (no gluten here either) and some pork stock just for testing purposes (will use liquid from my pork confit tomorrow night) and they were delicious! I love turnips, but this was a totally inventive preparation for me so I’m happy. :)

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I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!