Thursday, October 4, 2012

Barbacoa beef cheeks with green sauce and salsa

I wandered around Stirling Farmers Market on Sunday and headed over to the caravan which always has some great quality meat, and this day was no different. I picked up some chunky beef cheeks for $12, enough to feed quite a few, it was a bargain! I wasn't really that keen on making a stew, it's too wintery for this weather. What could I do with this tough, sinewy cut?

I decided that I would go down the Mexican route, and slow cook the meat, in a heady mix of spices until it was falling apart, and make tacos. Now if tacos aren't summery and vibrant then what is?

I chose this recipe from Food 52 for Barbacoa Beef Cheeks, but adapted it to suit what I have in the cupboard... Looking up Barbacoa, I found out that it's actually a way of cooking meat that originated in the Caribbean and Mexico, and it means to barbeque, usually in a coal pit. Pork cooked this way is called carnitas, which you'll see in many a Mexican restaurant. But interestingly, I found that a typical Mexican barbacoa cooks the meats without any sauces or spices, rather adds them once they're cooked. However there are variations, and the Arawak people, who lived in the Caribbean, are thought to be the first to use this method of cooking, and they add the sauces and spices before cooking as a means to preserve the meat, and this is the method the recipe calls for. It ends up saucy from the cooking juices, and richly spiced, which can be forked apart and piled onto a taco! The recipe includes a teaspoon of instant coffee, which gives the dish a richness and really works together with the smokey characters that the chipotle and smoked paprika give.

It's traditionally served with mole or salsa, and so I decided to have both!

I wanted a tasty, tangy sauce to counter the rich, unctuous (that's a wanky food word, but really, I can't think of another word for it!) meat, and so I threw together a bright green sauce of rocket, spring onions, garlic oil, cumin, chilli, tomato, vinegar and cayenne pepper into the blender. What came out was, to quote Nigel Slater, such a bright tasting sauce. I would have preferred to have lemon/lime instead of vinegar, and garlic instead of garlic oil but some days, you run out of things in the house! Today was one of those days. Room for improvement yes, but it was still great. Isn't that what cooking is about? An experiment here and there, finding out what works and making it better!

The salsa I served it with has got to be one of the simplest sides you can serve. It goes with any meat. Really. Roast beef, grilled fish, or slow roasted barbacoa beef! Slice up a couple of tomatoes, spring onions, and if you like, cucumber. Add a generous pinch of salt to draw out the moisture, and a shlug of white wine vinegar. That's it. It's delicious straight away, or after you let the juices develop into a tangy dressing - I make this aaaall the time! 

This whole meal requires very little effort, just a little forward planning! This cut of meat is cheap and all the ingredients are easy to find, you'll probably have them all already anyway! The chipotle we found at a specialist spice shop at Coventry Market. We served our meal with corn wraps - in hindsight, get something sturdier, like actual tortillas, you need something to hold onto the juicy contents without splitting!!

Barbacoa Beef Cheeks

1kg beef cheeks
4 cloves garlic
1 chipoltle chilli (soaked or zapped in water in the mincrowave)
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 handful fresh rocket
1 tsp instant coffee
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 lemon/lime

1) Place all the ingredients aside from the beef and the lemon/lime into a blender/mortar and pestle and mix until you get a loose paste.

2) Trim the beef cheeks of any excess fat and sinew, then marinate the beef, covered, in the paste overnight.

3) Place the beef in an ovenproof dish with all the marinade, and roast slowly  for 5-6 hours on 100C. Make sure you cover the meat up with foil or a lid, otherwise it will dry out. Turn the beef every now and again (not the end of the world though if you can't). You can also use a slow cooker, but I have not tried this.

4) When there is about an hour to go, turn the oven up to about 150C and cook until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened.

5) Take the meat out and let it rest while you prepare the other sauces etc. When it has cooled slightly, use 2 forks to tear the meat apart and coat generously in the cooking juices. Squeeze the juice of a lemon (to taste) over the meat before serving.

6) Serve with tortillas, mole, salsa, avocado, and some greens.


  1. Im a firm believer you dont need to buy an expensive cut of meat to make a nice meal. This looks delicious, cant go wrong with Mexican flavours :)

  2. Hello, we love the first image and would like to feature it in an article on our site. Please get in touch for more details -
    . Thanks, Sandy