After enjoying pork cheeks during our trip to Portugal last year, this year in Italy we had several different renditions of veal cheeks. The veal cheeks we had at Mariella were amazingly tender and flavorful, so back home I wanted to prepare something similar and succeeded using sous vide. 48 hours at 68C/155F is my new favorite temperature for braising meat sous vide, and the veal cheeks came out amazing. You can eat them with a spoon, while the meat is still juicy. Just like at Mariella’s, I served them on mashed potatoes. This is a great recipe to prepare a large batch, so you don’t have to run the sous vide for 48 hours for each portion separately. It freezes very well and can be thawed and reheated in 1-2 hours at the original sous vide temperature. For best results it is important to salt the cheeks the day before you sous vide them, so take into account this will take three days from start to finish (with very little active time).
For 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) of veal cheeks, about 12 servings
2 kilos (4.4 lbs) veal cheeks, trimming away the ‘skin’ is optional, as it will become tender (but not everybody likes it)
1/2 litre (2 cups) red wine
100 grams (1 cup) each of finely chopped carrot, onion, and celery
4 Tbsp double concentrated tomato paste
1 clove garlic, finely minced
freshly grated nutmeg
4 bay leaves, preferably fresh
salt and freshly ground black pepper
cornstarch as needed
mashed potatoes, for serving
Note: Mariella’s version also included dried porcini mushrooms, but I couldn’t really taste them so left them out of my rendition. You could add them by reconstituting 10 grams (1/3 oz) of dried porcini mushrooms in hot water, finely mincing them and including them at the same time as the onions, carrots, and celery, filtering the soaking water to remove any sand, and adding that after the red wine.
Season the veal cheeks with 1% of salt by weight, and refrigerate overnight to allow the salt to penetrate deeply into the meat.
The next day, pat the cheeks dry with paper towels, and brown them in batches in olive oil over high heat…
…until nicely browned on all sides. The pan should not be too crowded, as otherwise you won’t get a good sear. The searing adds flavor and is best done before sous viding when you are doing braised meat.
Take the cheeks out of the pan and place on a plate to cool. Continue until you have browned all of the cheeks.
Do not clean the pan, as the brown bits left in the pan will add flavor to the sauce.
Add finely chopped carrot, celery, onion, and garlic…
…and stir over medium-high heat until the vegetables start to turn golden.
Add bay leaves and tomato paste, and stir for another minute.
Then add the red wine.
Bring to a boil…
…then lower the heat and simmer until the sauce is thick and almost dry.
If using a chamber vacuum sealer, allow the meat and sauce to cool off, first to room temperature and then in the refrigerator, before vacuum sealing the meat with the sauce, distributing the bay leaves among the bags.
If you do not own a chamber vacuum sealer, use ziploc bags and the water displacement method. It is not needed to cool the meat and sauce before doing that. If you want to use an external vacuum sealer instead, you have to freeze the sauce first, as otherwise the liquid will be sucked into the machine.
Cook sous vide for 48 hours at 68C/155F. (The timing is not very exact, anywhere between 44 and 52 hours is fine.) If not serving right away, chill the bags in water with ice cubes and then refrigerate or freeze. It takes only 1-2 hours to thaw and reheat from frozen.
To serve, pour the sauce into a pan. Keep the meat warm in the bag by wrapping it in a towel or something, and discard the bay leaf. Make a slurry of cornstarch and cold water (the amount depends) and add this to the sauce to thicken it.
Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring, until it has thickened.
Place the meat in the sauce and turn and baste it for a minute or so over low heat to heat up the outside a little. Do not use high heat, as you don’t want to dry out the meat.
Serve the meat with the sauce with mashed potatoes on preheated plates.
This is great with an aged full-bodied red Italian wine, such as a Barolo, Barbaresco, or Brunello of at least 8 years old.
These rolls of smoked eggplant with mozzarella and basil are divine.