Monday, November 02, 2009

Oxtail stew made simple

I have got lazier since I wrote my previous recipe for oxtail stew. I am less fussy about submerging meet that is stewing entirely in liquid, because I have not observed that the higher temperature of a steam-filled, covered casserole causes it to toughen. However, it does brown - and that has led me to doubt whether it is necessary to brown the meat first. Simply turning it, so that each surface is exposed above the liquid, does the trick. So I rubbed my oxtails in just a little oil, which on the exposed surfaces offers some protection to the meat.

Softening onions in oil before stewing is another procedure that may not make much difference to the finished dish.

I have also grown reluctant to throw away flavoursome ingredients. The onions, having imparted their flavour to the sauce, are expendable; but it is a shame to waste the fat. The home cook has an advantage over the restaurant chef, who, largely for aesthetic reasons, must skim sauces.

Oxtail is particularly fatty. Oxtail stew with mashed potato may be a wintry treat, but, with unskimmed sauce, is too rich. Plain, boiled potatoes are fine; or rice.

4 oxtails
A little sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, unpeeled
1 ladleful beef (or chicken) stock
Sprig of thyme
Bay leaf
1tbsp tomato ketchup
Splash of Worcester sauce
1/2 star anise (since writing the previous recipe, I've decided that a whole star anise is too assertive)

Anoint the oxtails with a little oil, and arrange them in a casserole. Surround with the onions, garlic, star anise, and herbs; pour the stock around, and add the tomato and Worcester sauces. Add salt to taste.

Cook in a low oven for three to four hours. My Le Creuset casserole will simmer very gently on a gas mark S/130C heat (but may take a good hour to get to simmering point); your oven and dish may behave differently. Turn the oxtails from time to time.

Remove the oxtails, and sieve the sauce into a saucepan. Return the oxtails to the casserole, and cover. Taste the sauce, and reduce it if you like. Serve the oxtails with the sauce poured over.


elwyn said...

Dear Nicholas,

We love oxtail - in a braise, soup, curry or made into a brawn - in fact we made oxtail brawn last Christmas.

In the past I did not brown the onions, but do now as I think the caramelized result adds to the final flavour of a dish. Would I be right in thinking that a chemical change occurs to the onion family when fried at a high heat as opposed to the heat in braising in liquid which boils at 100 degreesC?

On another note - have you made your Christmas pudding yet?

Regards, Elwyn

Nicholas Clee said...

Now I think about it, I can see that you're right. It probably is worth browning the onions, even though it can be a lengthy procedure. I read somewhere - in a Madhur Jaffrey book, perhaps - that browned onions help to thicken the sauce, but I am not sure why they should.

No, I haven't got round to the pud. I seem to remember that Jill in The Archers celebrates her "Stir-up Sunday" in about the middle of November.