Johnny Hernandez, chef/owner of La Gloria restaurant in San Antonio, Texas, specializes in serving regulars at his eatery upscale barbacoa (Mexican barbecue), creating meat-centric dishes infused with rich herbal flavors.
“The best tasting barbacoa is made from beef heads, but today it’s almost impossible to find anyone using the whole beef head, and many restaurants have turned to buying just the cheeks,” says Hernandez.
While this tender beef-cheeks dish is traditionally eaten for breakfast with corn or flour tortillas, Hernandez serves it as a main course.
Recipe courtesy Johnny Hernandez, chef/owner of La Gloria restaurant, San Antonio, Texas
5 pounds beef cheeks
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 white onion, peeled and quartered, plus 1 tablespoon chopped onion, for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs oregano
2 sprigs epazote (Mexican herb; available at most Mexican groceries)
¼ bunch parsley
4 dried avocado leaves
3 banana leaves
Dried cilantro, to taste, for garnish
1 lime, quartered, for garnish
Preheat an oven to 350ºF.
Rub the beef cheeks with salt and pepper and place in a large pot. Add enough water to fill ¾ of the pot, then add the quartered onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, epazote, parsley, avocado leaves and banana leaves. Cover the pot with a lid and place in the oven. Cook until beef cheeks are fork tender, approximately 3 hours.
Once cooked, remove the whole herbs. When ready to serve, chop or shred the meat, and plate. Garnish with chopped onions, cilantro and lime slices.
Hernandez pairs this beef cheeks dish with a 2009 Las Rocas Garnacha from Calatayud, Spain. Its fruity flavors and high acidity complement the herbs in the dish. As a second option, he suggests the house wine at his restaurant, a Casa Madero Shiraz from Coahuila, Mexico.