Classic Oxtail Stew
I’m not sure about you guys, but I’ve had many a moments when I was trying out some dish at a restaurant or diner and immediately told myself, “Man, I’ve gotta cook for myself a pot of that!” This classic oxtail stew is basically one of the very many “recipe cracking” episodes I have of late. Thankfully, this is very simple and rustic food to begin with and thus, very forgiving. The ingredients are also fairly straightforward , all clearly “observable” against the rather clear soup base. The latter I thought, was interesting as most of the oxtail stews I’d had, some of which I’d featured on my blog here and here are more richly coloured. Everything is conveniently cooked in one pot, my trusty Le Creuset round casserole, most of the time in the oven. No fuss at all!
I love oxtail stews and would order it off any menu whenever I know that a good rendition is available. It is a really robust tasting cut, muscle interlined with tendon and bone. Oxtails are the best for stews where the broth takes on all those wonderful flavours, thickened naturally by the collagen seeping from the bone. I use my Le Creuset round casserole whenever I am cooking stews and soups and oxtail is no exception. The weight of lid of the pot minimises seepage of all those lovely aromas and flavours together with the steam, keeping everything sealed within the pot during the cooking process. One may not smell very much of the food when all the brewing and boiling that is going on in a heavy duty cast iron casserole compared to other conventional ways of cooking, and may thus begin to wonder if everything is doing well within. On the contrary actually, as the hefty pot lid is doing its job, locking in everything inside the pot and thus the food, maximising the gastronomic experience that is to follow.
The ingredients list is rather standard for stews, i.e. the meat, the vegetables and the aromatics. This stew doesn’t prescribe to any specific cuisine, though it leans towards the French way of stock-making, yet remain rather Asian in terms of flavours.
Get fresh oxtail whenever possible. Not that readily available compared to other cuts and can be rather pricey yes but they are so so yummy! On top of the oxtail, I usually add a piece or two of “braising cut” like tenderchuck or brisket to help boost the flavour profile of the stew. Bones are also added for the same purpose! All in the makings of a good stew.
The “frenchness” of this oxtail stew comes from the methodology. I made a “mirepoix” which acts as the stock base. For those who are not too familiar, a “mirepoix” is essentially made up of carrots, celery and onions brunoised, i.e. very finely diced. The standard ratio of the vegetables is 1:1:2 in that respective order but one doesn’t need to feel compelled to follow it strictly of course. This is afterall a really rustic tasting stew. The sweetness from these vegetables forms the base for the broth, lending support and building the flavours for the other ingredients. One may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of vegetable ingredients use but that is the way to ensure a good stock.
Before cooking the mirepoix, the oxtail, brisket and bones are first browned through searing with oil over the hot pot. Searing helps to seal in the meat juices during cooking, but that is purposed usuallyfor steaks but in this case, what browning the meat essentially does on the other hand, is to help render any fat on the oxtail and meats which are then used to cook the vegetables. The inner surface of the pot would be browned invariably during the browning process but that can be easily taken care of through deglazing later on. The cooking order of the mirepoix is important. We have to sweat the diced onions first, cooking them to the point of being soft, translucent and slightly caramelised, in order to tease out the sweetness from within. Only then can the carrots and celery be added. The aromatics like bay leaves, crushed peppercorns, star anise, nutmeg are also sauteed at this point to bring out their flavours. Yes the choice of spices is decidedly Asian this time round, but one can also choose to go West with juniper berries and allspice! Very versatile stew to cook!
Once the mirepoix is nicely sauteed, hot water is added and the mixture brought to a boil before adding the browned oxtail, bone and brisket. Give everything a good stir and the whole pot then goes into the oven for the first part of the stewing. One of the greatest perks in cooking using a Le Creuset casserole, is its ability to go on the stove, in the oven and finally directly onto the dining table to be served. A truly all-in-one cooking system.
The casserole is taken out from the oven briefly for the remaining vegetables to be added. I do this because I prefer the vegetables to retain more textures and bite during the feasting but should one likes their vegetable stews mushy and soft, simply add the vegetables together with the oxtail before going into the oven and let it and the cast iron casserole do their job in finishing with the cooking. 2 hours later, the oxtail stew is ready to be served…
Classic Oxtail Stew (serves 6-8)
1 kg oxtail chunks (4-6 pieces)
500g beef chunks for braising i.e. chuck, brisket or shank
300g large bones (optional)
300g carrots, half diced finely and half cut into large chunks
300g celery, half diced finely and half cut into large chunks
400g large onions, peeled. 300g diced finely and the remaining 100g quartered into chunks
200g potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
400g tomatoes, quartered
8 bay leaves
1 tbsp of black peppercorn, coarsely crushed
2 star anise
1 nutmeg, crushed
hot water as needed
salted as needed
ground black pepper as needed
2 tbsp cooking oil or butter
handful of chopped italian or flat parsley, chopped coarsely
Add cooking oil or butter into a heated cast iron casserole over a medium flame.
Add oxtail chunks to sear and brown all the sides. Do not crowd the casserole and do this in batches if necessary. Remove and set aside in a plate.
Repeat the searing process for the brisket or other braising cuts, and finally the bones if using.
Add diced onions into the pot and sweat them in the remaining cooking oil and rendered fat. Using a wooden or silicon heatproof spatula, carefully etch the base of the pot to help deglaze.
Saute the onions until they are soft, translucent and slightly caramelised. Patience is needed for this. The aromatics, i.e. nutmeg, bay leaves, black peppercorn, star anise are also added together for sauteeing at this point.
Add diced carrots and celery and saute them until soft.
Pour in hot water and bring everything to a boil.
Return browned oxtail, brisket and bones into the pot and bring to a boil again.
Cover with lid and place the whole pot on the lowest rack of a convection oven preheated to 180C.
Cook for 1 hour.
Take the casserole out from the oven, remove the bones and add the chunked vegetable ingredients, i.e. potatoes, tomatoes as well as remaining carrots, celery and onions.
Season with salt, cover with lid and return to the oven with the same settings for half hour of stewing.
Turn off the oven but leave the casserole in the oven for another 30 to 45 min.
Take the casserole out of the oven carefully, remove lid and skim off any scum or excess oil on the surface of the stew. Check the flavours and add more salt if required.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and ground black pepper.
Serve immediately with bread.