Sweet Soy Braised Beef Cheeks with Mango Salad
My eight years in Australia were very interesting. Queensland is a hot place and the outdoor life inevitably influences the food. Sometimes I found myself scratching my head in desperation to find an alternative way to cook a dish. The difficulty was adapting a dish without losing the core idea that made it a ‘classic’.
When I opened my first restaurant in Brisbane, it was called Bruno’s Tables. I decided that everything I served there would be food I loved to eat myself and that I wouldn’t make any concessions towards trends or expectations. My first resolution was not to have steak on the menu. This was quite a brave (or uninformed!) move in a city where the quality of a restaurant is too often judged by the quality of its steak!
The idea for this dish came quite easily. I decided to do a braised beef using the best cut for that: cheeks. But beef braised in red wine, as is classic in French cuisine, was too rich and potentially boring for Brisbanites who were used to exciting Asian food influences. So I decided to use the classic French technique but change the ingredients. I braised the cheeks with sweet Indonesian soy sauce, lemon grass and Kaffir lime leaves that grew in my garden, and local ginger. The usual mashed vegetables gave way to a local mango and herb salad. The dish was an instant hit and has become a classic in its own right. The unusual salad served with the braised meat always seemed to surprise people – even chefs, but when they taste it they are impressed by how well the ingredients work together and how refreshing it is. I served this dish for a dinner celebrating my friend Raymond Blanc’s 60th birthday. For me this dish shows how traditions can be adapted to changes in life.
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2kg beef cheeks, trimmed
- 300g carrots, sliced
- 200g celery, sliced
- 2 onions, diced
- 5 garlic cloves, crushed
- 5cm piece of fresh root ginger, sliced
- 1 star anise
- 1 lemongrass stalk, crushed
- 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 9 tbsp sweet Indonesian soy sauce (Kecap manis)
- 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
- 3 Kaffir lime leaves, bruised
- 500ml veal or beef stock
- 3 green cardamom pods, crushed
- Grated zest of 1 orange, plus 1 long piece of peel
- 3 tbsp lime juice
- Toasted sesame seeds, to garnish
- For the salad:
- 1 mango, peeled and sliced
- 12 spring onions, finely sliced
- 1/2 cucumber, finely sliced
- 3 tbsp roughly chopped mint
- 3 tbsp roughly chopped coriander
- 4 tbsp roughly chopped basil
- Wedge of lime, to serve
- For the dressing:
- 4 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp chopped fresh root ginger
- 1 Kaffir lime leaf, very finely chopped
- 50ml olive oil
- 3 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp palm sugar
Preheat the oven to the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/Gas 7. Heat the oil in a frying pan and colour the beef on all sides, then remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and set aside. In the same pan, place the carrots, celery and onions and fry gently over a medium heat until golden brown. Place the beef in a casserole or heavy ovenproof dish, add the vegetables and all the remaining ingredients. Add enough water to cover the cheeks with 3cm of liquid above the meat. Place a circle of greaseproof paper on top, then an old plate, which will keep the beef submerged. Cover the dish with the lid, or if you don’t have a lid use a double layer of foil. Place in the oven for 3 hours.
Check whether the beef is ready by squeezing a piece of meat between two fingers. It should feel like your fingers would go through it and break it if you pushed hard. Leave the meat to rest in the sauce for at least 30 minutes or it will dry out.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat from the sauce, place in a dish and cover with cling film to prevent it from drying out. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve over a clean pan, then bring to the boil and skim the surface. Leave to reduce to a nice rich sauce consistency, then turn off the heat and add the meat.
To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Make the salad by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl then add the dressing.
To serve, place a mound of salad on one side of each plate with the beef and sauce on the other. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.
Because the time involved in the preparation is quite long, I suggest you cook the meat the day before (it will only improve in flavour), leaving you simply to finish off the sauce and the salad on the day.The meat can be reheated in the sauce over a low heat on the hob.