Gird your loins fine people. This is not a recipe for the faint hearted. Think of the ultimate comforting feasts of mac n cheese or a slow braised beef that collapses to the touch. Now combine them. With a béchamel sauce. Welcome the beef cheek mac n cheese to your life. Traditionally from Lyon in France, this super nostalgic and rustic winter dish is made with slow braised oxtail. The meat is layered with macaroni cheese and a béchamel sauce then finished off in the oven for a crisp top. Here I’ve opted for beef cheeks – no particular reason other than I love to cook with them and it avoids man handling the bones and hot meat later on. This is the simplicity of a mac & cheese turned into a totally and completely decadent feast – it’s what the French do best really. This serves 4 – 6, you could stretch it to 8 with a fresh green salad and some crunchy bread. Mac n cheese for grown ups. Just the way it should be.
1 tbsp butter
800g beef cheeks
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 cups good quality beef stock
500ml Beaujolais wine (or any red will do at a pinch)
Salt flakes and pepper for seasoning
500g Macaroni pasta
20g sourdough breadcrumbs
30g plain flour
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to season
60g gruyere cheese plus extra to brown on top
100ml crème fraiche
In a large cooking pot, add the butter and brown the meat well on all sides. Add the thyme, bay leaf, chopped onion and garlic and cook until the onion softens and only just starts to colour. Deglaze with the wine, add the stock and cook over low heat for 3 - 4 hours until beef is tender and collapsing to the touch. Keep an eye on the liquid and add more stock if necessary. Remove from the heat. Shred the meat into a bowl.
Cook the sauce over high heat for a further 15 minutes or until it looks thick and glossy. Strain over the meat, stirring to combine. Cook the macaroni pasta until al dente – rinse with cold water and drain. Set aside.
Prepare the béchamel sauce: In a saucepan on a medium heat, melt butter and add flour. Whisk until smooth and gradually add milk whisking away. Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg and stir until sauce thickens to a desired consistency – this will take approx. 8-10 minutes. Add the gruyère cheese and crème fraiche. Mix well until cheese has melted. Set aside.
Preheat oven 210 °C. Line a baking dish with butter and place one layer of beef and sauce, one layer of macaroni, one layer of béchamel sauce. Repeat procedure and finish with a layer of béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with additional gruyère cheese if using and the sourdough crumbs. Bake for 20 minutes until golden on top. Serve immediately.