Though not the most storied cut of veal, the slow-cooked cheeks of baby cows are considered by many to be a delicacy. Referring to the actual cheeks of the mammalian face and not the rump versions, veal cheeks are the heavily worked jowl muscles of the young cow, used to suckle and eat grass. To impart needed tenderness, chefs often pound and then braise this meat in a fragrant and flavorful broth.
Veal cheeks are not always readily available, often finding their way into ground veal instead. Butchers can easily provide these cuts upon request, though. In some areas of Europe like France and Italy, cheeks may be offered alongside the more common veal cuts like the loin, rib, breast, shoulder, shank and rump, from which cutlets and chops can be sliced.
Before beginning the braising process, veal cheeks must be properly prepared. Due to the cut's lack of natural tenderness, many cooks will pound the steaks first with a meat hammer to soften much of the toughest connective tissue. Afterward, garlic, salt and pepper might be rubbed onto the meat, leaving the cutlets intact or cutting them into large chunks.
The true flavoring and marination will occur during the long cooking process. One recipe at the Slow Food Kitchen Web site, from Italian culinary star Massimo Bottura, leaves four lamb cheek cutlets in a long, slow bath for as long as 30 hours, in a pressure cooker set to a steady 150°F (about 68°C). With the cheeks are a simple, yet diverse, blend of nurturing ingredients: chopped celery, onion and carrot as well as beef stock, reduced beer, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and some olive oil.
The possibilities for veal cheeks ingredients are as bountiful as a chef's skill and budget. Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse trims the cooking time to about five-and-a-half hours for 5 lbs. (about 2.3 kg) of cheeks, braising the cheeks in 2 cups (about 15 oz.) each of Madeira and red table wine. That is not all that carries this saucy stew, though, which Lagasse pairs with polenta. Braising in a Dutch oven or sealed broiler, inside an oven set to 275°F (about 135°C), the cheeks are bathing in a deeply flavorful broth of wine, oil, water, tomato paste, garlic, carrots, onion, celery, bay leaf, red pepper, rosemary, peppercorns, salt, pepper and various Italian seasonings like oregano and sweet basil. Lagasse, of course, suggests that chefs also include a dash or two of his Essence® spice blend to add a slightly Cajun touch.