I hate sarsaparilla (or root beer as the Americans call it). I find the aniseed medicinal flavour to be a bit gross, as it sort of reminds me of a non-alcoholic Jägermeister... so what’s the point? Here’s the BUT: using it as a braising liquid really works! Those exact flavours I dislike as a drink give this sauce a beautiful depth when it is reduced. Although I don’t really subscribe to the whole ‘three-course meal’ style of dining anymore, this was one of the most popular mains on the Lotus menu, and it encapsulates that ‘East meets West’ philosophy beautifully.
Add some oil to an ovenproof braising saucepan and heat over a high heat. Fry the onions, ginger and garlic until caramelised and slightly burnt. Pour in the sarsaparilla to deglaze the saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes to develop the flavours.
Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and add some oil. When it is hot, sear the cheeks, turning them until nicely browned on both sides.
Transfer the cheeks to the braising liquid, cover the surface with baking paper and then secure with a tight-fitting lid. When the braised beef cheeks have been brought back to the boil, remove from the heat and transfer the saucepan to the
Set a timer and, about halfway through the cooking time, turn the cheeks and ensure there’s enough liquid to stop them drying out. If not, add a little water. The end result: the cheeks should be soft enough to eat with a spoon.
Remove the pan from the oven and allow the cheeks to rest in the braising liquid for about 2 hours. This will allow them to absorb more of the liquid. After that time has passed, carefully transfer the cheeks to a plate and quickly cover them with plastic wrap to prevent them drying out.
Strain the braising liquid into another saucepan, heat over a high heat, and then reduce the liquid to a light sauce consistency. Don’t reduce it too much at this stage, as you’ll finish it off closer to serving. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.
Put the sourdough bread into the bowl of a food processor and whizz until coarse crumbs form. Spread the breadcrumbs on a tray and leave in a warm place (or the oven at a very low temperature) for a few hours to dehydrate. Once the crumbs are firm and have lost all of their moisture, they are ready to cook.
Put a large frying pan over a medium heat and heat the oil. Add the XO sauce and fry for 20 seconds, or until it becomes aromatic. Add the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon so the crumbs soak up the oil evenly. Turn the heat down to low and continue frying the crumbs, stirring constantly, until they are light golden in colour. Season with salt and pepper, then drain on paper towels. Allow to cool.
Put the carrots in a small saucepan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and cook the carrots over a medium heat until they are very tender. Test this by taking a slice and placing it between your thumb and index finger. If it squishes easily, it’s ready. By the time the carrots are ready, most of the water should have evaporated.
Drain the carrots and put them in a blender with the orange zest and about
Blanch the kale leaves in salted boiling water for 1 minute. Drain, refresh in cold water and set aside.
Arrange the beef cheeks in a single layer in a large shallow saucepan or frying pan. Add the braising liquid and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid, reduce the heat to medium and heat the cheeks through, basting every now and then with the simmering sauce. Continue to cook until the beef cheeks are heated through (you can check by inserting a knife or a metal skewer into the centre; if the skewer is hot, the meat is done). Remove the lid, turn up the heat and continue to baste the cheeks until they look nicely glazed and the sauce has reduced and thickened.
Reheat the carrot purée and spoon some on each of four serving plates. Add a glazed beef cheek to each plate, some reduced sauce and a few kale leaves. Finally, spoon or press some XO crumbs over the cheeks and serve at once.
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