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James Close: Cook up a celebration with some of our finest local beers

The chef of the Michelin-starred Raby Hunt Restaurant explains how to cook ox cheek with local beer

Ox cheek with local beer, pickled radish, peas and mushrooms
Ox cheek with local beer, pickled radish, peas and mushrooms

Next Friday is International Beer Day. On the first Friday of every August the world unites in celebrating the world’s finest beers, taking over pubs, breweries and back yards across the globe.

It’s a day for beer lovers everywhere to raise a toast to local brewers, landlords and bartenders, and rejoice in the greatness of beer. Perhaps the following day should be called International Hangover Day!

I’ve got to the age of 36 and I’ve done my fair share of beer drinking so I’m probably experienced enough to learn to cook with it.

Over the last few years in the restaurant I’ve created some amazing dishes using beers and it goes without saying that the better the beer the better the end result.

One of my signature dishes, 48-hour braised ox cheek with peppercorn jus, is still today one of my all time comfort foods.

So let’s talk about beer!

The Raby Hunt, for very many years following its inception in the early 1800s, has been a local inn serving good beer pulled from a hand pump. Even today we get the odd passerby thinking we are still a real ale pub.

You will have heard me talk in previous articles about using local growers of fruit and vegetables and the same goes for beer.

All of our beer range originates from within a 30-mile radius – Darlington, Bishop Auckland and North Yorkshire. You could spend forever stocking and trying different varieties but my current favourite and the most popular beer sold at the Raby is Black Paw Brewery’s Archbishop’s Ale.

Brewed to mark the Bishop of Durham becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, it is a dark ruby bitter with smooth hops and a bitter finish.

Last year it was being enjoyed by all as a guest ale within the House of Commons and more recently it has been selected to represent the North in the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia in August.

It was my sous chef, Ryan Bunker, who stumbled across Black Paw Brewery at a local food festival. So my advice is, as always, get out of the supermarket and go to meet your local food heroes. You’ll get great satisfaction from knowing that you’ve met the guy who made your beer or grown your vegetables.

So find your favourite dark beer and hunt down some ox cheeks. Any butcher nowadays has ox cheeks and they are surprisingly cheap.

They do require a bit of cooking but, boy, the flavour in this meat is unbelievable!

I cook mine at a really low temperature for around 72 hours. Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you wait three days for your food – the following recipe will help to speed things up a little.

Raby Hunt Restaurant, Summerhouse, Darlington, County Durham DL2 3UD. Tel. 01325 374 237



2 Ox Cheeks (normally between 300-400gms each)

One or two bottles of local beer (500ml)

One large onion

One pint of good chicken stock

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

4 garlic cloves

A handful of peas (frozen are fine)

Foraged mushrooms like girolles or ceps (if not ,some good chestnut mushrooms)

One radish (I use Mooli - you can get these from Asian supermarkets)

And for the pickling liquid –

100ml white wine vinegar

20g sugar

Pinch of salt


Season the ox cheeks generously with table salt and sear in a frying pan for three minutes, covering all sides. Set aside.

In the same pan fry the roughly chopped onion and garlic and add the beer. Reduce for five minutes on a medium to high heat.

Add the thyme and place all the liquid in a heavy oven casserole dish. Add 500ml of chicken stock and cover all the contents with cold water. Place in the oven overnight on 100 degrees for 12 hours.

Dissolve the sugar in warmed white wine vinegar, add a pinch of salt and pour over diced shallot (you will see from the picture that I use a mandolin slicer to shave the shallot into a disc). Set aside.

Take a litre of the cooking liquid from the ox cheeks, pass it through a sieve and reduce until it’s sticky and thick. Add a little more beer during the reduction process to gain more of a beer flavour.

Fry the peas and mushrooms in a pan with butter and season to taste.

Plate ½ of the ox cheek and smother with the reduced sauce – then place the fried mushrooms and peas over the cheek and add a small teaspoonful of pickled shallots over the top.

You can always serve this with some good creamy mash and seasonal vegetables too.


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