Summer is definitely on its way, and the time for slow cooked, hearty casseroles, braises and stews is drawing to a close.
I got the idea to try my hand at cooking with oxtail from the same How to Cook Like Heston episode which inspired my recent steak recipe. So, I thought I would make one last slow cooked meal before it summer really hits.
I started by browning the meat. There is a bit of controversy around browning meat – some say it “seals in the juices”, others say it adds flavour. Some people says there is no point. Everyone says not to “crowd the pan”, as the meat will stew. That’s true… except I am not sure that’s a problem, since I was making a stew anyway…! I don’t think 2 minutes of browning could possibly have any impact on moisture content in meat that is braised for 5 or 6 hours, and even if it adds flavour, I am not sure I could taste it over all the other ingredients.
But, despite all the doubt, I always do it anyway.
I simmered the oxtail in a mix of stock, brandy, sliced tomatoes with a few peppercorns and half a lemon for about 5 hours. I started the process the night before, cooking for about 2 hours on Friday night, then about 3 hours on Saturday morning.
When you see the oxtail simmering away, its hard to not think about where it comes from. If you don’t know, well, it is exactly what it sounds like. Which is why I was so surprised to find it is fairly expensive.
I simmered the oxtail for a few hours on Saturday morning, and around lunchtime, we headed out to vote in the election. Before we left, I pulled the oxtail pieces out of the braising liquid, and let the sauce cool so I could skim out the fat later.
When the oxtail had cooled, I pulled all the cooked meat from the bones. Its seems that there really isn’t very much meat on a tail!
Some of the fat and marrow had melted into the sauce, as intended, but some was still attached to the bone. I was considering cooking the bones for longer to extract the rest of the marrow, but in the end I am glad I didn’t. When I took the cooled braising liquid out of the fridge, there was a 10cm thick layer of gelatinous fat on top of the liquid, which I skimmed off.
I cleaned the pot, returned the pulled meat and added the skimmed, strained braising liquid. I allowed this sauce to simmer very gently.
In the original recipe, the vegetables are added at the beginning and strained out. I wanted my vegetables to be part of the sauce, and part of the final pie, so I decided to add them at this later stage.
I fried some finely sliced onion with some star anise and added the browned onions to the sauce. I deglazed the frypan with a cup of red wine, which I also added to the sauce, along with some chopped carrot.
Unfortunately, the pastry didn’t cook sufficiently, so it was a bit gluggy. However, the meat was amazingly rich, dark and moist. The marrow from the oxtail gave the sauce a slightly gelatinous consistency, which meant that no flour was needed to thicken the sauce. It was lovely while hot, although when it cooled, it looked a bit like meat jelly.
I don’t think I will cook with oxtail again . It was a lot effort, and the finished result was a little too rich for me. It was also just too expensive. I am perfectly happy to spend money on a good cut of meat, but this seemed just unnecessary. You can buy casserole or stewing beef for a fraction of the price, its delicious and tender after 2 or 3 hours of cooking, and there are no bones to deal with.
However, as an experiment, it was definitely a success!
We paired the pie with one of our favourite white wines, an Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
Although we would normally chose a red wine to go with red meat, particularly when it is cooked with red wine, I am glad we decided to match the pie with a white. The pie was so rich and heavy, that we needed the acidity of a crisp, dry white to cut through the fatty, heavy meat.