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!
A lot of my time during my university days at NUS was spent on campus, performing experiments in the labs, conducting research in the libraries and doing tutorials with friends at the numerous benches along the corridors. A lot of my meals were also settled in the faculty canteens, most notably the one near LT26 in the Science Fac or the oddly constructed Arts canteen in FASS, as I transit on a daily basis between these two faculties for lectures and tutorials. During meal times, the canteens were perpetually packed to the brim, with the lunch crowd often spilling over to the nearby study benches in takeaway styrofoam boxes. The queues at popular stalls were long beyond belief and by the time it was my turn to place an order, I would have to be rushing for the next tutorial already. As such, my study pals and I often picked the stall with the shortest queue to eat from and at the Science canteen, it had to be the one which sold “Western Food”. The food ain’t that bad really, just not particularly popular as most of my classmates, particularly the “China scholars” would prefer their ritualistic rice with stir-fry dishes from the mixed vegetable rice stall instead, often seen eating with an “interesting” combination of stainless steel spoon and a pair of chopsticks. The selection available at the “Western Food” stall was probably quite alien to them. We avoided the usual pork chops and chicken cutlet which were cooked in situ only upon ordering which meant longer waiting times, and opted from their version of “mixed vegetable rice” which we could “pick for a quick platter” instead. That said, even the dishes available were “unfamiliar”, to say the least. From the selection, one particular dish was “peculiarly” memorable. The elderly lady stall owner told us it is called “Chicken à la King“, which I had not a faintest clue what it was initially. But I remembered it being quite tasty, especially drizzled over rice, or macaroni . It reminded me much of those canned soups, creamy and chunky, which I bought and ate with instant noodles during my stay at KEVII Hall, wholesome and fulfilling suppers for the growing young man I was during those nights mugging in my chilly hostel room perched on the ridge. I replicated the dish several times during my hostel stay, first using Campbells, then from scratch after searching for a recipe online. Those were the “dialup” days when internet was still slow and laggy. Thankfully, finding a recipe for this American comfort food was quite easy. Over the years, I’d revisited the old recipe several times, though lesser often nowadays. But I do cook it now and then, when I just need an easy one-dish meal, or simply to revisit those memories of my school days.
Kari Ayam is a familiar favorite to most of us here at home. Different communities have their own versions, be it the Malays, Indians, Peranakans, Eurasians or the Chinese. Even within each ethnic group, one could easily find a plethora of variations to the which this dish is being prepared, differing by the concoction of spices or other ingredients used, and sometimes even with the process which the curry is being cooked. I remember reading someone exclaim that the number of ways we know of today to cook curry is as plentiful as the stars in the sky. Well, that is a lovely literary exaggeration if you ask me, but that said the piquant flavours which this dish is beautifully imbued with is by no means any less stellar.
I’m always in for different ways to eat oxtail as it is one of my favorite cuts of meat. It is so flavourful and the intermingling of fat, tendon and meat makes it all the more interestingly texturally. Apart from the standard beef stews, I’d also used it as a substitute for beef briskets in more Chinese dishes and oxtail works well for them too. I know that Gulyás or Hungarian Beef Goulash typically uses stew cuts like chuck roast which are chunked to become much smaller actually. But definitely no harm in trying out with oxtail. I’m glad I did because it worked beautifully.