Saturday, October 25, 2008


Vinegrowers' Braised Oxtail

Spring weather is notoriously unpredictable. The sun might have now inched its way closer to the southern hemisphere, but polar blasts are still bone-chillingly felt. It is in the first four weeks of spring that one continues to serve the soul-warming food of winter with touches of brightness. I love the bounty of produce that is available in between seasons. With great appreciation for challening identities and blurring borders, cooking at the threshold of a new season is exciting - it makes for interesting choices and shows the promise of the forth-coming season. Before crossing the threshold into the new season, one is also given the opportunity to cook the dishes one wanted to before it's too late...

And this is what brings me to today's post. Typically prepared at the beginning of autumn, when vinegrowers pick the most fragrant grape varietals, braised oxtail with grapes is a salt-of-the-earth dish that can be offered at any time there are decent seedless grapes available. The grapes make this a luxurious offering on the tongue, lapping up the fat rendered from braising the oxtail (the fat that could not be trimmed away for whatever reason).

An oxtail generally provides 7 joints - some larger than others. Oxtail joints are cheap and largely available from good butchers, who generally sell oxtails already jointed. Oxtail joints require slow, gentle cooking (as do many secondary grade cuts of meat) to release their best qualities. This makes for stress-free cooking, highlighted by the fact that this particular dish is best if made one day in advance.

The following dish serves 2-3.

Vinegrowers' Braised Oxtail

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, chopped into 1cm/0.5" half-moon slices and thoroughly washed
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped into 1cm/0.5" rounds
6 joints of oxtail
2-3 cloves
1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole
1/2 cup brandy
2 cups beef stock
bouquet garni (aromatic herbs: parsley, thyme, bay leaf tied together)
450g/1lb seedless grapes (you can remove all from the woody stems, leave them in clusters, or prepare a combination of the two, as I have)

1) Preheat oven to 140 C/285 F.
2) In a dutch oven, heat olive oil over low heat and add the leek, shallot and carrots. Fry gently until softened but not coloured, approximately 5 minutes.
3) Raise heat and brown joints of oxtail until they are bronze all over.
4) Add cloves and garlic. Heat through for one minute.
5) Add brandy and cook out the alcohol.
6) Add beef stock and salt and pepper. Stir.
7) Add bouquet garni and grapes, then cover tightly with greaseproof/baking paper.
8) Put on the lid of the dutch oven and place dish in the oven.
9) Cook for two hours, stirring at the one hour mark.
10) Allow to cool, then place in the fridge over night.
11) Next day: Remove the fat that has solidified on top and heat the braised oxtail dish through over a medium-low heat. Check for seasoning before serving.

Even though the colour is largely drained from the red grapes, creating a blushed effect, the flavours are big, uncomplicated and deeply-satisfying. Restrain from loading the plate up with too many grapes or each mouthful will be too sweet. As you can see, I have spiked the oxtail joints with gremolata, a herb condiment of parlsey, garlic and lemon zest, to lift the autumnal and wintry depths of the dish into springtime. Traditionally, potatoes boiled in their skins or a potato purée accompany this dish. I would heighten a purée with a touch of horseradish, further attaching Vinegrowers' Braised Oxtail to the new season.

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what a treat, I love braised oxtail! enjoy the upcoming spring weather!
Dear Shaun - I have not had oxtail for a very long time. Some think it offal, but I do beg to differ. Gremolata is a heady rendition. As much as your spring is unpredictable, here in the Northeast U.S., the timing (finally) for autumn bounty is just about right.
I cooked oxtail myself yet, though I've eaten it. And recently I added quite a few oxtail recipes to my Estonian site. Time to give it a go :)
PS K. says hi!!
Delicious, unctuous oxtail! I never cook it because my family are so squeamish yet it is the most giving of all cuts of beef.
Yours looks truly stunning!!
Antonio ~ Thank you! I hope you enjoy the fall. I'm excited to see what you'll cook up, since your summer offerings are so gorgeous.

Susan, lovie ~ I agree with you - oxtail is not offal; after all, it has meat and is not an organ in any way. The addition of gremolata was purely to provide a necessary perkiness to the dish - all the other flavours are mellow. I'm looking forward to see what you produce in your autumn kitchen - I wish I were in the Northeast, too!

Pille & K. ~ Absolutely give oxtail a go. Because it has to be cooked slowly (to tenderise the meat), it is a breeze to make - the dutch oven does all the work. Its meat pairs particularly well with fruit, so prunes and/or lingonberries would produce something wonderful. Quince would work, too, since it responds well to long cooking, but you would need more liquid since the quince barely releases any as it cooks.

Freya ~ There is nothing to be squeamish about, here. The oxtail can be purchased already jointed at the butcher. All it needs is a long braise to be delicate and falling off the bone. It is underrated.
Ummmmm, I need to get an oxtail-fix soon.
Cynthia ~ I am all about oxtail. Always tender, full of flavour. And it absorbs other flavours so well.





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