Other than tinned oxtail soup as a child (which I don’t think really counts), I hadn’t eaten oxtail until just the other week when I got hold of some at my local butcher and decided it was time to try it out on my family.
I’ve been meaning to cooking with it for quite some time but for one reason and another hadn’t got round to it. It’s a wonderfully cheap cut and I’d heard how full flavour and “unctuous” it can be when cooked long and slow – perfect for us as we cook in an Aga.
And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I turned to that classic Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon, which I always tend to consult when faced with a new cut of meat, and found a recipe for a slow-cooked oxtail, cooked very simply with soffritto (onion, carrot, celery and garlic), white wine and pancetta, or in my case beef stock and smoked bacon.
The result was truly unctuous. So it might not be the prettiest of plates but it tastes divine. A properly rustic kind of dish which demands eating with fingers to make the most of all that gorgeously sweet meat clinging to the bones, with plenty of cartilage to be gnawed and marrow to be sucked. The vegetables seem to soak up the gooey, marrow-rich sauce making them beautifully soft, and a large helping of creamy mashed potato is just wonderful served on the side.
What did disappoint was how squeamish the children were about getting stuck in. This isn’t normally a problem in our house, where we’re used to sticky fingers and dribbly chins. Perhaps I left a little too much fat on the oxtail or maybe it was simply the idea of eating a beast’s rear appendage, but I was surprised at how much encouragement my kids needed to finish their plates.
Don’t worry, I never give up on the first attempt. This is definitely a dish I’ll be trying on the clan again soon. I loved it so much, it’s now my mission to make my family love it too.
Braised oxtail with smoked bacon
850g oxtail, cut into pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
3 rashers smoked bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500ml hot beef stock
salt and pepper
Remove any excess fat from the oxtail and then soak in cold water for three hours, changing the water a couple of times. Drain and pat dry with kitchen towel.
Preheat the oven to 140°C/gas 1.
Heat the butter and oil in a large ovenproof dish, add the bacon and fry for 5 minutes until coloured.
Add the oxtail pieces and brown all over.
Stir in the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and fry together for a few minutes before pouring in the hot beef stock. Add enough hot water to just cover the ingredients and season to taste.
Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover with a lid and transfer to the oven to cook for three to four hours, until the meat comes easily away from the bone and the juices have thickened.
Serve with plenty of creamy mashed potato to soak up all that delicious sauce. And make sure you have napkins to hand.