Wagyu cheeks need to be slowly braised to unlock their deep beefy flavour and tender, unctuous deliciousness. Classically, the cheeks would be braised in red wine and a demi-glace but here I use a light, fresh vegetable-forward sauce as the braising medium, showing off their beauty and highlighting the rich, sticky collagen. Braising the cheeks both covered and uncovered brings out caramelised nuances in the braise. This dish also highlights one of my favourite elements of pasta cooking: the ‘marriage ceremony’ when the pasta is lovingly mixed with the braise so every strand is coated and the starches in the pasta absorb some of the richness of the meat.
4 Westholme Wagyu cheeks
1.8 kg (4 lbs) tomatoes on the vine
30g (1 oz) olive oil, plus a drizzle
115g (4 oz) guanciale or pancetta, cut into lardons
1 large leek (about 225g / 8 oz), white part only, cut into 8cm / 3 in batons
4 large stalks celery (about 225g / 8 oz), peeled and cut into 8cm / 3 in batons
1 large fennel bulb (about 225g / 8 oz), peeled and cut into 8cm / 3 in batons
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and shaved thin
115g (4 oz) tomato paste
1 tbsp fennel seed, toasted and cracked or coarsely ground
2 cups white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
4 cups rich chicken or veal stock
2 bay leaves
10cm / 4 in piece cinnamon
herb sachet (rosemary, thyme, parsley stems)
140g (5 oz) braised Westholme Wagyu cheek ragu
115g (4 oz) chicken stock
115g (4 oz) fresh pappardelle pasta
60g (2 oz) sweet peas
30g (1 oz) butter
few handfuls pea tendrils and fresh herbs, eg mint and parsley
30g (1 oz) Sardinian pecorino, grated
Trim the Wagyu cheeks using a sharp boning or butcher’s knife. Remove the silver skin on the top and bottom of the cheeks, trimming away any thick, hard connective tissue. Place the beef cheeks on a tray with a roasting rack and season well with kosher salt on both sides. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Cut the tomatoes in half, through the equator. In a large bowl fitted with a box grater, grate the tomatoes along the large holes of the box grater (cup the tomato half in your hand and grate the cut side along the box grater.) Discard the peels. Reserve the tomato pulp.
Preheat convection oven to 150C / 300F. Heat a heavy-bottomed braising pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and guanciale lardons. Stir and cook until rendered, golden and crispy, about 4 minutes. Remove the crisped guanciale to a paper-towel-lined tray, keeping the drippings in the pan. Return the pan to high heat.
Working in batches, sear the Wagyu cheeks until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes per side, or until golden all over. Be careful to monitor the heat to protect the fond (flavourful juices) in the bottom of the pan from burning. Remove from heat and place the cheeks on a tray and reserve. Drain excess rendered fat, leaving a thin layer in the bottom of the pan.
Return the pan to medium heat and add the leek, celery, and fennel. Season with a pinch of kosher salt. Cook for 5 minutes or until softened and slightly browned. Remove the veggies from the pan and reserve.
Add a bit more olive oil if needed then add the garlic. Stir for 30 seconds until slightly golden, add the tomato paste, grated tomato pulp, fennel seeds and half the rendered guanciale. Cook for 10 minutes or until reduced by half.
Add the white wine and stock, bring to a heavy simmer (increase your heat slightly if needed). Nestle the seared beef cheeks back in the pan. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and herb sachet to the pot. Bring to a heavy simmer, cover with a parchment round. Place the pot in the oven and bake for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, remove from the oven and give the cheeks a stir and a tenderness check. They will still be slightly firm but showing signs of beginning to soften around the edges. If they are still super firm, place back in the oven (covered) for another 30 minutes or so. If they are beginning to soften, stir the sauteed veggies into the sauce. Discard the parchment paper round and place back in the oven. This direct heat will now help the sauce reduce and the cheeks and vegetables to caramelise on top. Bake for another hour, checking on them every 30 minutes or so by giving them a quick stir and tenderness check.
Once tender, turn the oven off and let the cheeks rest in the pot for 30 minutes-1 hour. Discard the cinnamon, bay and herb sachet. Using two forks, gently pull the cheeks, creating tender morsels of shredded beef. Cool the ragu and refrigerate until ready.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season well with salt.
In a medium saucepan, heat the Wagyu cheek ragu and chicken stock over low heat until simmering. Stir often.
Place pappardelle in the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes or until al dente. Drain.
Add cooked pappardelle and peas to the pan and toss with Wagyu ragu.
Reduce heat to low and stir in butter, pea tendrils and herbs. Taste for seasoning, adjusting with a few pinches of salt. Serve with grated pecorino on top.
"This dish also highlights one of my favourite elements of pasta cooking: the ‘marriage ceremony’ when the pasta is lovingly mixed with the braise so every strand is coated and the starches in the pasta absorb some of the richness of the meat."