Beef Cheek Tacos with Cabbage are the tacos you never knew you needed. Incredibly Flavorful and tender once braised, beef cheeks may be your new go-to meat for Taco Tuesday!
Wow. Wow-wow-wow. You need to stop whatever you are doing and go purchase some beef cheeks. If you already own beef cheeks, what are you waiting for?! This was one of the Tastiest Things Ever.
Cheeks are great because a)they’re cheap and b)they are really flavorful. The harder the work the muscle does, the tougher but more flavorful it is. And cheeks are busy. All that chewing. Don’t believe me? Just go look at a cow. Odds are, no matter what else he or she is busy doing–swatting flies, wandering, daydreaming, being milked, cogitating or tipping–that cow will also be chewing. Busy jaws. Busy cheek muscles.
Does this look tender to you? No, it does not. But, from this…
Aren’t Beef Cheeks Tough?
So how can you take a ridiculously tough cut of meat with all manner of connective tissues, membranes and fats marbled throughout and turn it into magically tender and flavorful food? Well, you can’t. But your stove or oven can. Low, moist heat applied over a Very Long Time will break down all that connective tissue so that eventually, that tough hunk of cheek falls apart when you just barely touch it with a fork. Trust me. It will happen.
Update: If you don’t have all the time in the world, a pressure cooker or a multi-cooker such as an (affiliate link) Instant Pot will be your new best friend when it comes to making tough cuts of meat nice and tender. After all, beef cheek tacos are at stake!
What If I Don’t Want Beef Cheek Tacos?
As with the recipe inspiration, I went in a Mexican Direction with my flavors. Initially I was going to go Thai-ish with green chile paste and coconut milk and What Not, but we found traditional Mexican sour cream at the International Foods grocery, and I quickly changed my mind.
You can take your flavors in whatever direction you want, too. Go French by using red wine and beef stock for your braising liquid. Go good old American by going with onion soup mix and beef stock. Give a nod to the Italians by making it like osso buco and serving with some gremolata.
Serve it with steamed vegetables, or over gnocchi or pasta. Pair it with Israeli cous cous. Or spaetzle. Or mashed potatoes. The thing is that within reason, there’s no bad way to make this. Just remember, a ton of time in a very low oven in a moist environment will yield the Tenderness you Seek. And all you have to do is sleep on it.
Like I said, I stayed in Mexico with my version. Here’s what I did. It was awesome, so make it this way if it sounds good to you. Otherwise, just remember the formula:
Tough, cheap meat + yummy liquid + time and low heat (or half an hour or so in the Instant Pot) = tender goodness
How To Make the Marinade
Everyone goes in the pool together.
Bring to a boil and let boil for about 10 minutes.
Blend everything until smooth. Tada!
If you love the sound of this recipe, please consider rating it. And if you make it, I’d love to know. Tag me on Instagram, and use hashtag #pcorecipe. Can’t wait to see!
Slowly braised beef cheeks and cabbage make an incredibly flavorful filling for your next taco night. Add all the fixin's and don't forget the corn tortillas. You could make these as crunchy tacos, but I love the flavor and texture of soft corn tortillas for this recipe. **This is an older recipe, and I have updated the recipe instructions with Instant Pot directions. See Recipe Notes. Cooking time reflects Instant Pot directions and not Dutch Oven directions. It also does not include the overnight marinade.
- 12 large dried peppers , your choice (I used 4 each of three kinds)
- 1 Tablespoon cumin
- lots of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon dark cocoa powder
- 1 Tablespoon grated piloncillo (or just use brown sugar)
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 small sweet onion
- 1/4 cup vinegar (I used garlic-infused rice wine vinegar because it sounded good)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- a heavy pinch of kosher salt (you can add more later)
- 3-4 pounds beef cheeks
- 2 Tablespoons neutral oil
- kosher salt , to taste
- 1 12 oz dark lager , such as Negro Modelo or Dos Equis Dark
- 1/2 cabbage ,shredded
- your favorite taco-sized tortillas (we used corn tortillas)
- diced red onion
- lime juice
- Mexican sour cream (if you can find it)
- your favorite guacamole
- De-stem all the chiles, get rid of most of the seeds and tear into pieces.
- Add all the other marinade ingredients [em]except the tumeric[/em] into a medium sauce pan.
- Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for ten minutes.
- Pour the marinade into your blender. Make sure it is no more than half full. Puree until smooth. *Be careful when blending hot liquids. Cover the blender loosely with a towel rather than snapping the lid on. Start on low speed and then increase the speed until the marinade is smooth.
- Pour into a bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water and stir to cool quickly.
- Pat the cheeks dry. Score them all over in a criss-cross pattern to a depth of about 1/4".
- Place the cheeks in a gallon-sized zip-top bag and pour over the cooled marinade.
- Press out as much air as you can, and zip the bag closed.
- Place in a container and marinate in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours.
- When you're ready to cook, preheat the oven to 225F.
- Heat a large, oven-safe Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- While the pan is heating. Remove the cheeks from the marinade, scraping off as much marinade as you can.
- Dry the cheeks off as well as you can--they'll brown better that way--and reserve the marinade. Sprinkle fairly liberally with kosher salt.
- When the pan is hot, add the oil and then brown the cheeks on all sides.
- Pour in the marinade and the beer and bring to a gentle boil.
- Let boil for about 5 minutes, just to cook off some of the alcohol.
- Cover the pan tightly and put it in the oven.
- Go to bed or work or shopping or whatever, and let the tasty marinade, time and low temperature work their magic.
- If you're using extra vegetables, such as my sullen cabbage, add them during the last hour or two of cooking.
- With two forks (you'll really only need one--it'll be [em]that[/em] tender--shred the meat into as small a thread as you want. Or leave it in chunks. It will fall apart anyway.
- Serve now, or better yet:
- Let the meat cool in the cooking liquid--speed up the process by using an ice bath again. Or let sit at room temperature for about an hour, stirring occasionally to cool and then put in the freezer. Once the meat has cooled down significantly, refrigerate the whole shebang. Cooling and reheating is always a welcome step to a braise as these meals always taste better the next day.
- Reheat over medium-low heat.
- Once the meat is nice and hot, pour everything through a large strainer set over another pot. Press down on the solids.
- If you used cabbage, go ahead and chop it up into bit-sized pieces.
- Cover and reserve the meat.
- Bring the strained cooking liquid to a boil and reduce by half, until somewhat thickened and a bit syrupy.
- Reintroduce the meat and cabbage to the sauce and make sure it's nice and hot.
- Assemble your tacos as you See Fit, and enjoy.
I made rice in chicken stock flavored with lime juice and then folded in a bunch of cilantro after the rice was done. Very tasty, but make what you like.
You may also make the beef cheeks in your Instant Pot or other multi cooker. Simply brown the beef cheeks on the Saute setting, and add the reserved marinade and beer and bring to a boil, again on the Saute setting. Once the mixture is at a boil, lock on the lid and set to high pressure for 45 minutes. Allow natural pressure release for 15 minutes and then release the pressure manually. Continue with the recipe as written, reducing the marinade in the pot on Saute or using a pot on the stove.
I know that looks like a Very Lot to do, but please don’t shy away. Embrace the cheeks. But, if you just can’t see eating face, use your favorite braising cut–the one you like to use for pot roast. Because really, that’s all this is. The best, most meltingly tender pot roast ever!
If you’ve cooked along, please let me know in the comments and/or feel free to post on the facebook wall. And tell me, if you’ve never had beef cheeks before, does this inspire you to give them a try?
Thanks, and have a lovely day.