Today I want to talk about cheeks. They're a cut of meat that's vastly underutilized, and whether you're talking about beef, pork, or even fish, it's a cut that tastes amazing! If you find the idea of eating cheeks a bit grotesque, let me remind you that anytime you're eating meat, you are eating muscle tissue. Whether you choose a round steak(a fancy name for cow butt) from one end of the cow, or a cheek from the other, the only real difference is your perception of it.
So what makes them so amazing? For one thing, cheeks tend to get a decent workout, so they receive good blood flow and develop lots of connective tissue. Cheeks also tend to contain a lot of fat evenly marbled into them. These aren't necessarily great traits for a steak, but they're perfect for slow cooking. Time and heat turns the collagen into gelatin, while slowly rendering out the fat. When the meat is done, it ends up so tender and succulent that it falls apart into a pile of glistening strands of meat when gently prodded with a fork.
Csángó Gulyás, or Goulash in the style of the Csango people, is the perfect way to use some beef cheeks if you're able to get some from your butcher. Any cut of beef with lots of connective tissue such as the shins or chuck will work for this dish, but I love using cheeks so much because the rich beef is perfectly contrasted by the tart sauerkraut, while giving the soup and rice loads of flavor.
Cooked in stock with sweet paprika and a bit of caraway, Csango Goulash is traditionally more of a hearty soup than a stew, though you can take it in either direction by adjusting the size of the beef and the amount of liquid. Finished with a dollop of sour cream (or yogurt if you're trying to be healthy), it's the ultimate comfort food for a cold winter day. I served this Goulash with boiled potatoes, but dumplings or bread are both great accompaniments, or you can also increase the amount of rice (but be careful not to overdo it or you'll end up with no soup left).
- Trim the beef of any excess fat and and then cut into 1.5-inch cubes. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and then add the beef in a single layer. Brown on one side (4-5 minutes) and then flip and brown the other side. When the beef is browned, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Turn down the heat and then add the onions and garlic to the pot. Cover and let the onions steam until tender (about 10 minutes). Remove the lid, add the peppers and then saute until the onions are browned.
- Add the vegetable stock, paprika, caraway and bay leaf, cover with a lid, and then let the beef cheek simmer over medium-low to low heat until it starts to get tender (about 45 minutes).
- Drain and lightly rinse the sauerkraut. When the beef is almost tender, add the rice and sauerkraut to the Goulash. Cook until the sauerkraut and rice are tender (about another 30 minutes). Adjust salt to taste and serve with sour cream and dumplings, or boiled potatoes.