Every known hunting people, and most of our ancestors, would eat the entire animal, including all the organs, with the only exception being the parts that had other, more important uses. Like using sinew to make bows and bowstrings. This provided a huge variety of foodstuffs from a single animal, with the various parts containing different nutrients, textures, tastes, and great variety.
In modern times, we are told to eat only lean meat, from a limited selection of cuts. Most of the cuts served in restaurants and homes consist of lean meat, with all the visible fat trimmed off. For some people, the only meat they eat is boneless, skinless, factory chicken breasts, the most boring of meats—because it is “nutritionally correct.”
Our ancestors would have been surprised by this, as lean meat was their least valued cut, with some peoples actually reserving it for dog food. Cuts with lots of fat, and gelatin, such as organ meats and other areas of the animal, were preferred. These cuts had a much denser nutrient profile, full of the benefits of grassfed fat. And the gelatin contained in some cuts was highly prized, as it was known to help digestion and make strong bones.
This brings us to one of the traditional beef cuts, once highly prized, but now so neglected that most people have never tasted it—beef cheeks. Yes, they are cut from the facial area of the animal. And they look unusual, and fatty. And they are full of fat and gelatin. When properly cooked, they are tender, soft, easy to chew, and utterly delicious. They can literally melt in your mouth.
In the old days, when wise doctors used food to heal, beef cheek stews were prescribed to help with digestive problems. Some even recommended beef cheeks for those who were having problems with their face, such as recovering from an injury, or a skin problem. That is consistent with the line of traditional medicine that recommended eating the part of the animal that corresponded to the afflicted part of the human body, such as those doctors who prescribed beef heart for those suffering from heart problems.
But I must confess that the best part of beef cheeks are they wonderful texture and rich taste, when properly braised.
Cooking beef cheeks is easy. They can be slowly braised in a huge number of ways, with all kinds of flavorings and vegetables. Slowly cooked until easily pierced with a fork, they are wonderful. And the flavorful sauce you get is good beyond words. And cooking them can be as easy as placing ingredients in single pot and setting it to braise in a slow oven.
I am currently experiencing the joy of creating new beef cheek recipes, based on traditional food combinations. I love my work!
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