Sunday, July 12, 2009

Slow Food Sunday

For a while I have been thinking about cooking oxtail and reading a bit about different ways to go about it. I have a memory of eating a stunning oxtail stew in a pub years ago, when I was spending a winter weekend up in the Blue Mountains. I was blown away by the flavour and richness of the dish and the soft, melting texture of the meat. I have noticed a shift in recent years, away from the more expensive cuts of meat towards cuts that you would previously never see on any restaurant menu - lamb shanks in particular come to mind. Butchers used to practically give these away for dog food, now we seek them out because we know that if we treat them right, they are delicious and full of flavour. Oxtail is no exception.

I have never cooked oxtail before, so after doing a bit of research on how other cooks handle it, I came up with my own recipe and crossed my fingers. Happily, this is one cooking experiment that went very, very right. The key to this cut of meat is to cook it for a very long time - most recipes I found recommended between 2-6 hours. I went with 5 hours for my version. As each hour went by and I gave the oxtail a stir and a taste, I became more and more excited by the flavour that was developing. This dish is really worth the slow cooking time because the end result is to die for. It just needs you to give it a little attention from time to time and to stir the pot well, so that the sauce does not catch too much on the bottom. I started the dish in the morning just after breakfast and kept it just barely simmering on the stove through to the mid afternoon. It was a particularly chilly winter day today, so I was all about comfort - the beautiful rich aroma coming from the kitchen and the fact that I didn't even get out of my pajama pants for the entire day made me feel very cosy indeed. :)

So, here it is - Slow cooked oxtail stew. Aromatic, flavoursome and with juicy meat that just falls off the bone. I served it with parsnip and potato mash and some broad beans. Delicious.

Slow Cooked Oxtail Stew

You will need: 1kg oxtail (get the butcher to cut it into pieces about 4 cm long), 2 tablespoons plain flour, 1 teaspoon paprika, pepper and salt, olive oil, 1 cup white wine, 1 litre good quality beef stock, 1 tin crushed tomatoes (I used italian ones), 3 chopped cloves garlic, 6 sliced eschallots, 1 large chopped brown onion, 1 cup each of finely diced carrot, celery,fennel, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley stalks.

Method: Combine the flour, paprika and salt and pepper in a plastic bag and add the oxtail. Coat the oxtail pieces well in the flour and dust off any excess. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a heavy based dish (if you are lucky enough to own an extra heavy cast iron/enamel dish, this would be ideal.) Brown the oxtail a few pieces at a time and then set them aside. Be careful not to let the flour in the pan burn - brown is ok, but not black.

Splash a few tablespoons of the white wine into the pan to deglaze, and give it a stir to lift any brown bits from the bottom of the dish. Add an extra tablespoon of olive oil and add the onion, eschallots, celery, carrot, fennel, garlic and parsley stalks. Cook the vegetables for a few minutes until the onion starts to look transperent.

Add the oxtail and stir through the vegetable mixture. Next, add the remaining wine and let it bubble for about a minute, to cook off the alcohol and to allow the meat to soak up the flavour. Now, add the stock and tomatoes, a generous seasoning of pepper and give it another good mix.

Bring to a very gentle simmer - the bubbles should barely break the surface - and cook covered for 3 hours and then then take the lid off and continue uncovered for another 2 hours. Give the dish a stir from time to time and make sure that the sauce is not catching on the bottom.

Serve with mash or polenta and winter vegetables.


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