The weather remains warm, but our appetites are turning towards winter dishes.
I cook many variations of this stew; the invariable ingredient is the tomato ketchup. For four.
8 chunks of oxtail; or, if they are of varying size, chunks weighing 850 g to 1 kg
Groundnut or sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
I carrot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
350 ml beef stock (chicken would be fine)
330 ml beer (I used Pilsner Urquell)
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp nam pla
1 star anise
Coat the oxtail pieces in flour. You could put the flour in a bag, and shake the oxtail in it; or turn the pieces in flour on a plate. This is a simple way of getting a certain amount of thickening agent into the dish.
Warm a heavy frying pan over a medium heat, pour in enough oil to coat the bottom, and brown the oxtail pieces -- in two batches if necessary. Start with a medium heat, lowering it as the oxtail starts to brown in order to avoid burning the oil. Transfer the oxtail to a heavy casserole large enough to contain the pieces in a single layer.
Adding more oil to the pan if necessary, soften the onion, carrot and garlic. They will catch and burn immediately if the pan has not cooled down after you browned the meat, so keep stirring. Allow the vegetables to become golden. Tip them into the casserole.
Deglaze the frying pan with a little of the stock or the beer: pour it in, allow it to bubble, and scrape the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour this liquid into the casserole, along with the rest of the stock and the beer; add the other ingredients. Be cautious with the salt -- you can add more later.
The oxtail should be submerged, so that it cooks gently in its bath. (Exposed, it would be subjected to stronger heat.) Add water, or more stock, if necessary; any dilution of the stock will not be greatly significant, because you can reduce the sauce later.
Put the casserole, covered, into a gas mark 1/140 C oven. It may take an hour to come to simmering point. That does not matter: very gentle cooking is what you want. Cook the stew for about three hours in total, or until the meat is tender.
Leaving the stew overnight works well. Allow it to cool, then put it into the fridge. The next day, you will find on the surface a layer of fat, which you can lift off with a spoon.
If you are going to eat the stew today: lift out the meat, and strain the sauce into a large glass bowl. (Return the meat to the casserole, and cover.) You will see the layer of fat on top. Spoon it off (not into the sink, where it will congeal). Do not feel you have to get rid of all of it: what you leave behind will contribute flavour. Pour the sauce into a saucepan, and boil it until it reduces and thickens slightly. Keep tasting, and stop the process when you think that the flavour has the right concentration. Add salt, if necessary. Return the sauce to the casserole, and warm everything through on a low light.