Friday, 24 September 2010

At Home: Daube of Oxtail

As autumn fills the air and winter looms, as the whiff of dusty radiators creaking back to life makes us long for log fires, the casserole dish is recovered from the back of the cupboard and I get slow cooking.

Cheap cuts of meat are what's called for: pig's cheeks, trotters, belly...beef shin and oxtail. Supermarkets are starting to meet consumer demand and stock these treasures, so if you're not lucky enough to have a decent local butcher, check out your nearest supermarket's meat counter.

In a bid to be more frugal, I'm strongly resisting the urge to buy new cookbooks, instead plundering the dozens that are gathering greasy dust on the kitchen bookshelves (not the ideal place to keep precious tomes, I know). Adapted from a recipe in 'More Taste Than Money', a wonderful American 1970's cookbook by Harriet Hands, now out of print, this oxtail stew will thaw, soothe and coddle the chilliest of souls.


  • 4 large pieces of oxtail (don't let the butcher palm you off with the small bony pieces, go for the thickest meatiest chunks you can find)
  • 3 red onions, quartered
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • cooled beef stock
  • 2 cups red wine
  • generous splash of brandy (optional, but nice)
  • 5 slices streaky smoked bacon/pancetta, diced
  • 2 tbsp vegetable/light olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 5 whole allspice berries
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • grated rind of half an orange
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the oxtail in a deep stainless steel or glass bowl with the onions, carrots, garlic, stock, wine and brandy (if using). Cover, and let marinate for 4-5 hours in the fridge.

Dice the bacon and fry, stirring, in a deep, heavy casserole with the oil until brown. Remove the oxtail from the marinade with a slotted spoon and fry with the bacon, turning until brown on all sides. Do this in batches, if necessary, to avoid crowding the meat (making it steam and braise instead of fry), removing each piece to a plate.

Add the drained vegetables from the marinade to the casserole dish, cook with the bacon until softened, then return the meat and the marinade. If the marinade doesn't cover the meat, add a cup or two of water. Add the remaining ingredients, season generously, and stir.

Cover and simmer over a very low heat, or place in a preheated 120C oven, and cook for 4-5 hours until the meat is tender.

Harriet Hands suggests serving the daube in a bowl with noodles and chopped parsley, without reducing the sauce. For a more traditional version of the dish, remove the meat, reduce the sauce to thicken, and serve with a steaming jacket potato or mashed potato.