Ox Cheek Confit with a Tomato Essence Air

Categories: Main Course, Recipes, West
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Published on: November 22, 2013

Ox Cheek Confit with caramelised carrots, fondant potatoes and a tomato essence air.  This was the first dish I put on the menu, I’ve wanted to do ox cheek for a long time and this particular recipe has been going around my head for months after I spotted a similar recipe nearly two years ago on another site.  As soon as I knew I was doing a dinner party, this dish had to be part of it.  I first experimented with an ox cheek confit about a year ago, it turned out really nice but it was a lot of effort, it was messy, it took ages and there were so many surprises cooking it.  I swore to myself I would never do it again but when we sat down to eat it, we both thought it was such a delicious way to cook beef that it was worth the effort.  However it’s taken me about a year to get back around to it but it was certainly worth the wait!

Some of you might have reservations about eating ox cheek, it’s not your typical cut of beef but cheeks (on almost any meat) are the tastiest part, cooked properly they are juicy, tender and full of flavour.  But, ox cheeks are one of the most worked muscles on a cow – they never stop chewing; so the cheeks must be treated properly.  Ox cheek is a stewing or braising cut, it must be cooked slowly, otherwise it will be tough.  So here are some of my lessons from cooking ox cheek:

– Ox cheeks are big, no they are huge.  One cheek will feed two people as a main course.  In this case I cut them into quarters because people wouldn’t have room to eat half of one each after eating 4 previous courses.

– Ox cheeks expand.  They start big and they get bigger.  I’m not sure if this is a peculiar trait in general or if it just applies to ox cheeks in a confit, but expect them to double in size during cooking.  Plan to have a suitably large dish to cook the cheeks in, or cut them into portions before you start.

– Ox cheeks are tough.  For two hours of cooking the cheeks will be as tough as rubber to cut, do not be disheartened.  Somewhere around the 3 or 4 hour mark they will just melt.  The transformation is amazingly rapid, one minute I was thinking “I’m going to cook something else, these cheeks are solid” and a few minutes later when I checked again they were falling apart.  I’ve never seen such a sudden change, but it does happen.  Just keep cooking until they become tender and when they do, you will stuggle to keep them together.

– You need a lot of beef fat.  Because the ox cheeks expand so much and go stiff, you need a lot of beef fat to keep them properly covered in fat.  You need more than twice the raw weight in beef fat to ox cheek in order to do a proper confit, 1kg ox cheeks = 2kg beef fat.  Either become really good friends with a local butcher so you can get your own beef fat for free, or be prepared to buy several buckets of the stuff.  On the upside you can reuse the beef fat so it doesn’t go to waste!


The dish itself is quite easy to do.  The tomato essence takes a lot of effort and ingredients but it is so tasty.  Making the essence into an air is very easy and adds a little bit of flair to an otherwise straight-forward dish.  The great thing about this dish is how inexpensive it is – aside from the large quantity of cherry tomatoes, it is actually quite cheap to make.  Ox cheeks are usually very cheap, the tricky part is getting hold of them – it’s usually a special order item.  Beef fat, carrots and potatoes make up the rest of the dish and they’re not exactly expensive!

The four elements of this dish combine really well, I was so happy with how this came out and it was one of the highlights of the meal.  It’s a fancy way of doing “meat and two veg” but it’s not just dressing it up, it actually adds a lot of unique flavours.  Every element has been enhanced, the carrots have black garlic, the potatoes are cooked in stock, the tomato water adds acidity and heat and the ox cheeks just melt in your mouth.  I could eat a plate of any of those things all by themselves but they combine so well.  And if all that isn’t enough… any left over ox cheek can be used to make some of the best stovies I have ever had and the tomato water makes a fantastic soup.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Sadly the pictures here do not do this dish justice.  I missed the tomato water air until after everyone had started eating and the ox cheeks look burnt – although I can assure you they are not, they fall apart the second a fork goes anywhere near them!


Ingredients (Serves 8):

4 Ox Cheeks

2kg Beef Fat

50ml Light Soya

4 Cloves Garlic

2 Star Anise

1 tsp Fennel Seeds


Caramelised Carrots:

400g Carrots

2 Shallots

1 Clove Garlic

12 Cloves Black Garlic

1 tsp Demerara Sugar

2 tbsp Honey

1 tbsp Beef Fat

1 tbsp Cheek Juices / Marinade

Handful of Parsley


Fondant Potatoes:

8 Large Potatoes (roughly even sized)

300g Butter

200ml Chicken Stock

2 Cloves Garlic

4 Sprigs Thyme


Tomato Essence Air:

1kg Cherry Tomatoes

1 Small Fennel

1 Stick Celery

1 Clove Garlic

1 Shallot

2 Sprigs Thyme

4 Tarragon Leaves

1 Tbsp Caster Sugar

1/2 Tsp Cayenne Pepper

5 Drops Worcestershire Sauce

1 Drop Tabasco

2 Drops Angostura bitters

Handful of Basil

Soy Lecithin (maximum 1% by weight)




Ox Cheek Confit:

1.  Prepare the Ox Cheeks by mixing a marinade of Soya, Star Anise, Garlic, Salt and Fennel Seeds and allow the Ox Cheeks to sit in it for a few minutes.

2.  Place each Ox Cheek in a freezer bag, tip in 1/4 of the marinade, then store the Ox Cheeks in the fridge for anything between 1 and 3 days.

3.  Preheat your oven to 150C.

4.  Place the beef fat in one or two deep oven dishes or trays, melt in the oven.

5.  Take each Ox Cheek out of the bag and gently wipe off the marinade, reserve any leftover marinade and juices for the carrots.

6.  Place each Ox Cheek in the dishes of fat and return to the oven for about 4 hours (or until fork tender).

7.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool, ensuring the cheeks are completely seal in the fat.

8.  Store in the fridge for at least 1 week or up to 3 months.

9.  On the day, place in a preheated oven at 150C and cook until the fat has rendered enough to remove the cheeks.

10.  Take two tablespoons of beef fat and melt in a large saute or frying pan.

11.  Cut the cheeks into halves (or quarters if you making this as part of a larger meal) and fry until slightly crispy on the outside.

12.  You can keep the cheeks warm until you are ready to serve.


Caramelised Carrots:

1.  Peel and slice the carrots and shallots, finely dice the garlic and cut the black garlic into halves or quarters

2.  Set a large saute pan to a medium-high heat, add the beef fat.

3.  Once the beef fat has rendered, add in the carrots and shallots and saute until they begin to soften.

4.  Next add the sugar and honey and fry until it caramelises, add the garlic while it is caramelising.

5.  Add the cheek juices and black garlic then place a lid on the pan, reduce the heat and let it steam / braise for a few minutes.

6.  Toss in a handful of chopped parsley, give it a good stir then remove from the heat.  Serve immediately.


Fondant Potatoes:

1.  Peel the potatoes, trim off the top and bottom then cut them into large barrel like shapes.

2.  Melt the butter in a large saute pan over a medium heat

3.  Once the butter is foaming, place in the potatoes and fry until golden-brown (about 5mins)

4.  Turn over the potatoes and brown the other side in the same manner.

5.  Carefully pour in the chicken stock – stand back as the hot oil will spit!

6.  Crush the garlic cloves and add them to the pan with the thyme sprigs.

7.  Season the potatoes with salt and then cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat so that the stock simmers gently.  Cook until you can easily poke a knife into the sides of the potatoes.

8.  Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon, season with a little salt and pepper then serve.


Tomato Essence Air:

1.  Cut the tomatoes into halves and roughly chop all the other vegetables and herbs.

2.  Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tbsp of sea salt and marinate for 4-6 hour.  Cover with cling film and keep cool.

3.  Blitz all the ingredients together in just 3 short pulses (do not blend/puree).

4.  Make a muslin cloth bag and tip in all the ingredients.  Tie up the bag with string and hang in the fridge over a bowl or prop the bag up in a bowl – as long as it doesn’t touch the bottom.

5.  Leave the bag to strain for at least 3 hours or ideally overnight – do not squeeze the bag!

6.  Store the liquid in an airtight container, it will keep for a few days.  The pulp can be used in a risotto or made into a puree for a pasta.

7.  When ready to serve, pour out about 200g of liquid into a flat, wide dish or bowl and add 2g Soy Lecithin.

8.  Use an immersion blender to skim the surface of the liquid, creating a foam.  Take large scoops of the foam and plate.  If you need more foam, just repeat steps 7 & 8.



– Cut the Ox cheeks into portions before you start cooking.  Once you start cooking it is very difficult to cut until it becomes so tender it falls apart.

– Strain the beef fat after you are done and store it in a container, it can be reused for making chips, stovies or another confit.

– You can spoon some of the potato stock on your beef if you want some sauce.

– Left over tomato essence makes an excellent consomme, so don’t add Soy Lecithin directly to the whole batch unless you intend to use it all.

– You can use beef stock instead of chicken stock for your fondant potatoes if you want a richer flavour but given how rich the cheeks are, I felt it would be too much.

– Be careful with how much Tabasco you add to the essence, it really comes through in the final flavour of the air.  Too much spice will overpower the more subtle flavours.


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