Thursday, 22 January 2009

What to do with an oxtail

Have you ever cooked an oxtail? I hadn't until a couple of years ago. It just looked too alien and scary, too fatty, too much as if it would never cook through. But I had eaten it and enjoyed it so gave it a try and it was fab.

Basically you treat it exactly as you would a beef stew except for three things. You need to soak it for a couple of hours in salted water (to be honest I don't know why, presumably to remove any impurities). You need to cook it for longer (stands to reason, it's dense) and you need to skim off the fat (easiest if you leave it overnight)

What you then get is a stew of incredible richness and intensity, possibly the best beef stew you've ever eaten. Here's how I made it the other day:

Braised oxtail with red wine
Serves 4-6

1 large oxtail, as lean as possible
2 tbsp plain flour
4-5 rashers streaky bacon or bacon bits (or you could use chorizo and leave out the pimenton)
2-4 tbsp olive oil or other cooking oil
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
Stick of celery, trimmed and sliced (optional)
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp sweet pimenton/paprika
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 bottle red wine or a bottle of porter
A small glass of port (optional but good if you're using wine)
350ml beef or vegetable stock
A few sprigs of thyme, parsley stalks and a bayleaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cover the oxtail in water, season well with salt and leave to soak for 2-4 hours. Drain off the water, pat the meat dry, and dust each piece in seasoned flour. Cut up the bacon into small pieces, heat 2 tbsp of the oil and fry the bacon until beginning to brown then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Brown the meat well on all sides and remove that too then add more oil if necessary and cook the onions until beginning to soften, adding the sliced carrots and celery after 3-4 minutes. Stir in the finely chopped garlic, paprika, allspice and tomato paste then add the wine, port, if using and stock or water (or stock and beer, if using porter). Add the herbs tied together with a piece of string or cotton and the meat and bacon, ensuring the liquid covers the meat (if not, add a bit more wine or stock) and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down as low as you can and simmer on the hob or in a very low oven for about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. If serving straight away skim off as much fat as possible and add a little more red wine (don't top it up if you've used beer - it'll taste bitter) and reheat. Or leave overnight and the fat will be easier to spoon off. You can take the meat off the bone if you like. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste then serve with creamy mash (or baked potatoes) and carrots.

Any leftovers make a fabulous base for a cottage pie, topped with mash or mashed root veg such as swede and carrot or you could even make the whole thing into a pie. (If you do this you may find you have some liquid left over. Strain it and freeze it to add to a gravy or another stew.)


Cathy M said...

When I was a child, my mother always made oxtail soup. It was delicious.

recipes2share said...

This sounds a delicious winter warmer - funnily enough It isn't a cut I would cook with but am mulling over the idea as I have just been reading Gordon Ramsays recipe for ox tail stuffed ravioli. The casserole certainly looks straight forward!

Slice of life said...

hmm I am not sure it is something that would be eating in our house. Would it take forever to cut the bones out? Mr wont eat anything that has bones in it on his plate

Anonymous said...

When we were stationed in Hawaii, oxtail stew was a popular dish in the local eateries. It was always delicious, though never exactly the same in any two restaurants.
I loved it, even in Hawaii's "winters" (which could be damp and chilly from time to time). Thank you for jogging my memory so pleasanylt.

Mary Eman

Greenlady said...

Oh goodness, that has reminded me, I do love oxtail but haven't cooked it for years - you couldn't buy it during the BSE years and I think I just got out of the habit. I must seek some out soon, it's just the ticket for these damp cjilly days.

@ slice of life, there should'nt be a problem with the bones, the trick is to cook it long and slow so the meat literally falls off the bones :) also I don't mind a fatty oxtail - if fat is not liked then cook in advance - leave to cool and then take solid fat off, reheat later.

Amy said...

That sounds scrumptious. I've been chatting with the farmers at my local farmers market about "odd" cuts of beef and pork, and oxtail does seem to be coming back into fashion. I'm looking forward to trying this recipe out!

Fiona Beckett said...

Interesting comments, all. Good point about oxtail soup, Cathy M - had forgotten that.

Oxtail ravioli? Would be delicious but life is too short - for me at least - recipes2share! Just give me some nice creamy mash.

No, it doesn't take long to remove the bones, sliceoflife, as greenlady points out, the meat just falls off them. Mr will have no idea there were bones in the first place!

Thanks for sharing your experience in Hawaii, anonymous. Fascinated to know how they cooked it?

And yes, go for it Amy. Should be good quality coming from a farmers' market but like most 'cheap' cuts these days, not necessarily cheap.

recipes2share said...

totally agree - love making pasta, but this is a step too far!

Credit Cruncher said...

Any tips for vegetarians?

Fiona Beckett said...

Fair point, Credit Cruncher. There's been a lot of meat lately on the blog! Will do my best;-)

Anonymous said...

As far as I can remember, it was cooked like a stew - the oxtail was cut up and nicely browned, then slowly cooked. Some places were more a rich, dark "gravy" and others were more tomato-y. Some had carrots and potatoes cooked in it, others served rice or noodles on the side. Nicely seasoned, I'm guessing onions, garlic, salt, pepper. One of my favorites had a delicious dark gravy that had had a bottle of beer added while cooking. Or so the server said.
Mary Eman

Fiona Beckett said...

Beer, is good with oxtail, Mary, particularly dark beers, so it probably did. Interesting. Thanks for letting me know.

Lizzie said...

Ooh - I had no idea you were meant to soak it in salted water, I didn't when I made oxtail pie. It's a shame it's gone up so much in price, but not surprising as it's so tasty!

Fiona Beckett said...

I didn't either, Lizzie until I made it the first time and looked up a couple of books. Whether it makes a huge difference or not I don't know.

Incidentally I had some oxtail gravy leftover which I'd frozen and used as the basis of an onion gravy with our haggis last night. Reeeeally tasty!

James said...

I always pick up oxtail whenever I see it at our local farm. Goes well with meaty fish like cod - a classic combination, if you can get over the meat and fish combination.

Fiona Beckett said...

Hi James and good to hear from a real live chef! I have had oxtail and cod and it's great you're right but maybe more the innovative kind of combination it's fun to try in a restaurant rather than something to attempt at home. At least it would daunt me!

Anonymous said...

My mum made oxtail soup too - it is a brilliant idea to educate us about unfamiliar cuts!

Alana said...

Popped this on at lunchtime and is now simmering away nicely. Had to add some beef skirt as didn't have quite enough oxtail and popped some mushrooms in that needed using up. It's smells delicious and if it tastes anywhere near as good as it looks and smells this will be a very happy household!