Oxtail is one of those things that has rather gone out of fashion. Principally I think because supermarkets rarely stock it, and consequently you have to go to the butcher’s to get it. Also, cuts of meat which require long, slow cooking don’t tend to fit in with our modern ‘convenience-lifestyles’ particularly well. It’s not the kind of thing you can grill for 12 minutes then it’s done!
In spite of its image problem, oxtail is something which definitely deserves the effort. Like lamb, it has that rich, unctuous quality, where the meat literally collapses and melts onto the fork. Because it’s braised on the bone, slow-cooking releases the marrow’s sweet, gelatinous stock, which gently cooks out into the sauce. It consequently has that feeling of ‘casseroles of old’.
Few low-carb dishes have the mouth-feel of a ‘thickened sauce’. The good news is that oxtail does it automatically, so you get the feel of flour, without the carbs!
As the kitchen slowly fills with the scent of braised beef, and each family member in turn asks hungrily “what’s for dinner?”; you’ll truly feel that rare sense of achievement which so often gets lost in modern cooking. This dish is one of those things where good things come to those who wait. Trust me; it’s worth it!
Heat a heavy-based casserole on the hob and then throw in a knob of butter and a little oil (to stop it burning). Salt the oxtail and add it piece by piece to the pan; enjoying the rich sizzle & odour as the cool meat instantly caramelises against the hot metal. Turn the meat as each side seals, re-seasoning the pieces as you go. Remember not to over-crowd the pan. Meat is a solitary fellow when it browns; it doesn’t much care for company. Put too much in at once and the temperature of the pan will cool. At this point, all you’ll get is meat which steams. There won’t be a sniff of caramelisation in sight. That would be a horrid pity!
Once the meat is nicely sealed, add a good handful of eschalions (also known as banana shallots). Stir these in, then add a clove of chopped garlic. Don’t go too heavy on the garlic with this dish. It’s not coq au vin, where the blandness of the meat requires a hefty boost in flavour. The oxtail can very much hold its own in taste and richness – but you must give it a chance.
De-glaze the pan with a good glug of port, then once the liquid has reduced, top up with water until the oxtail is ‘up to its eyebrows’ in liquid. Shake in some dried herbs, a bay-leaf and add a good teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Place the lid on the pan and, when it comes to the boil; move into a low oven (circa 130˚) with the lid on for a good two and a half hours.
Following this, lift the lid and you should see a rich, ‘glossy’ sauce which has reduced by roughly half its volume. If there is still any fat remaining that hasn’t cooked out; upend those oxtail pieces in the pan, so that the fat is facing upwards (like fat on a roasting joint). Return the pan to a hot oven without the lid, so that the remaining fat browns and the sauce reduces down by a further half.
Meanwhile prepare your béchamel. When I say ‘béchamel’, this is really a sauce based on cream-reduction, as it uses no flour. The end result is still the same however – rich, creamy and smooth. Make up a full cup-worth of double-cream, diluted by half with water. Pour this into a thick-bottomed saucepan and place onto the simmering-plate. Crumble a handful of blue-cheese into the pan, season and leave to thicken for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Chop your broccoli and steam with the mange-tout for a couple of minutes, until a sharp knife goes in but ‘meets resistance’ (we still want the vegetables to retain their bite). Take your oxtail out of the oven and ladle into a serving-dish. Pile the steamed vegetables next to this, and pour over your blue-cheese sauce. Serve in large bowls, making sure each portion gets a generous scoop of the thickened gravy.
Thanks for reading and bon ap!