March 22nd, 2012
Oxtail is literally the tail of a cow – it contains a lot of lean meat, bone marrow and gelatin. When cooked gently in the oven for a few hours, the meat will fall off the bones and produce an unctuous, hearty casserole. It’s one of the most delicious casserole/stew type dishes I’ve ever had.
A decent sized tail weighs about 2 pounds and a good butcher will chop it up and trim off any excess fat. I recommend cooking this over 2 days at a low heat, until the meat falls off the bone. If this is done in a cast iron casserole in the oven, very little attention is needed and it won’t burn.
Oxtail recipe (serves 6):
1 large oxtail (about 2 lbs) jointed
1 large onion (chopped)
2 sticks of celery (chopped)
2 carrots (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 dessertspoons of tomato purée
1 or 2 squirts of anchovy paste (to taste)
3 teaspoons of ground herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme – ground up in a mortar and pestle with coarse sea salt and black peppercorns)
2 bay leaves
1 large pinch of crushed chilli
2 – 3 large spoonfuls of plain flour
a level teaspoon of English mustard powder
1 Kallo beef stock cube
1 bottle of red wine
a splash of red wine vinegar
olive oil for frying
Mix up a couple of large spoonfuls of flour with a teaspoon of Colman’s English Mustard Powder. Coat all the pieces of oxtail liberally in the flour, heat up a big splash of olive oil in a large cast iron casserole (you may need to add more oil if the flour soaks it up)
and brown the meat all over. Hang on to any leftover flour.
Remove the browned tail pieces from the pan and fry the chopped onion with a large pinch of crushed chilli flakes.
When the onion goes translucent, stir in the carrots, celery and garlic.
Mix in the ground herbs followed by the beef stock cube.
Next stir in any leftover flour and mustard mixture (about 1 large spoonful) – this helps to thicken the casserole as it cooks.
Pour in a whole bottle of red wine, plus a splash of red wine vinegar and allow it to bubble away for a few minute to burn off the alcohol.
Add the tomato purée, an inch of anchovy paste and two bay leaves.
Finally, return the tail pieces to the casserole, make sure it is simmering, put the lid on and transfer it to a preheated oven at 125º C.
There’s not much point in doing a tasting until the oxtail has had at least an hour in the oven and even then it could be hard to tell, so I recommend waiting for about 4 hours before tasting the oxtail properly – at this point you can tell if it needs a bit more purée, anchovy paste, half a stock cube, black pepper, wine vinegar etc. It will probably need a little bit of something according to your personal taste.
I’ve found that like a lot of other slow cooked dishes, oxtail improves with a second day of coking. It does need a long cooking time, in order for the meat to tenderise and fall off the bone – in the meantime all the marrow is released from the inside of the bone and it’s delicious as well as being good for you. So, I start my oxtail off in the evening – give it about 4 hours of cooking and then leave it in the warm, switched off oven overnight.
The next day, the oxtail will have cooled down and all the fat will be sitting on top, so it’s very easy to get a spoon and scoop it all off. This improves the flavour as well as your waist line.
Put the lid back on the casserole and put it back in the oven at 125º C. This time it’s cold and can go into a cold oven.
I cook mine for up to another 6 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone. On this second leg of cooking, the taste will be much easier to judge in terms of adjustment. Always season a little bit at a time (no matter what you are adding) – it’s easy to add more but impossible to take out. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little red wine or hot water from the kettle.
When the meat starts to come off the bones, I like to remove them, but there is no reason why you can’t serve the oxtail rustic style, with bones, just so long as the meat is literally falling off. You can of course allow the casserole time to cool down, remove the bones and then heat it up later in the evening for supper.
Do check the seasoning before serving.
I like my oxtail on a mound of mashed potato – celeriac would also be good.
This recipe was given to me about 10 years ago by my friend Oli – I’ve tweaked it a bit, but it’s quite close to the original – I believe it’s an old family recipe.
I had some help at the butcher from Flat Ruthie of Cardboard Me Travels. Ruthie’s staying with me and helped with the shopping – in return, I’m showing her the sights of London. If you look closely, you’ll see my oxtail just to the left of Ruthie, in the background.