If you’re anything like me, you keep the bones from any meat you’ve cooked and use them for stock. I’m a bit fanatical about this: after I ate the Hawksmoor Breakfast, I was so distressed by the thought of all the lovely marrow bones and carcasses from our feast going to waste that I asked for the bones in a doggy bag. (The servers were maybe a little more snarky about my request than they needed to be – but who cares? The stock I made from those bones was fantastic.) I’ve blogged about making white chicken stock, and there’s also a similar concoction called white veal stock made from veal marrow bones, but 99% of the time what I have to hand is beef bones, and I make a brown beef stock. Good butchers will give you beef bones for free if you buy meat from them. Ideally you should use marrow bones, but other bones work as well. Just roast them in a single layer in a fairly hot oven until they’re a rich dark brown colour and caramelized (you can throw an onion or carrot into the roasting pan if you like). Then cover with water in a large pot and simmer for at least three to four hours, skimming off the scum that rises to the surface, until the liquid has reduced by at least a third or more. Remove the bones from the pot and then strain the liquid through a mesh strainer. When the stock is cool you can remove the fat. If you keep the temperature low during the cooking and don’t stir the pot, and are careful about skimming off the impurities, you will wind up with a lovely clear stock that you can put in your freezer for future use.
The next couple of blog posts could have the subheader, “Delicious Things I Cooked Using Homemade Beef Stock.” This particular dish is based on a dish that Simon from ferdie’s food lab made for one of his supper clubs. (If you’re in London and your budget permits, you should try ferdie’s food lab: Simon’s food is great.) Oxtail, of course, is one of those previously-unfashionable-now-fashionable cuts of meat, like pork belly, that used to be dirt cheap and now is a little more pricy. Nevertheless, if you’re cooking meat on a budget (like I am) and you care about things like sourcing and sustainability (like I do), oxtail is still affordable. (I paid £6 a kilo for nice Scottish beef.) Simon made his dish with onions; I’ve substituted shallots because I adore the flavour and I happened to have a lot of shallots on hand. I’ve made a few other tweaks as well.
The shallots and garlic, after slow-cooking with the meat and rich stock, herbs, and red wine for four hours, essentially melt and fuse with the oxtail. The result is an almost shockingly delicious stew of sticky dark oxtail in a rich, dense sauce. Yes, braising cuts of meat like oxtail takes some advance planning (it’s not something you can whip up for dinner after work) but it is so worthwhile.
I am exceedingly fond of the texture of barley, so I served this on a bed of barley, garnished with pomegranate seeds and a sprinkle of chopped parsley, but to be honest, those garnishes were added to add color to the photo of the dish, not because the oxtail needs the additional flavors. You could serve this with any grain, or boiled or mashed potatoes. A friend who cooked this dish served it simply accompanied by crusty bread and a green salad, and by all reports, it was lovely.
2 kilograms (about 4.5 pounds) oxtail (ask your butcher to separate it if it’s not sold that way already)
1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) shallots, halved and finely sliced
A head of garlic, individual cloves peeled and sliced in half
2-3 bay leaves
8-10 sprigs of fresh thyme
8-10 sprigs of fresh parsley
1-2 tablespoons of oil
1 liter (about a quart) of brown beef stock
1 bottle of good red wine suitable for cooking
Freshly cracked black pepper
(You’ll also need parchment paper.)
Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius (about 330 degrees Fahrenheit).
Wash the oxtail and trim off excess fat with a sharp knife. Next, heat the oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat and brown the pieces of oxtail on all sides.
You are now ready to assemble your oxtail for braising. Spread a layer of shallots and garlic on the bottom of your braising pot. Lay the oxtail pieces in a single layer, trying to fit in as many as possible. Cover with herbs and another layer of shallots and garlic. Continue until you’ve used up all of your oxtail, then pour the wine and stock over everything. The liquid should just cover the oxtail – if it does not, you can add a little bit of water. Add a few grinds of black pepper, and cover everything with a parchment lid and then cover the pot. (A parchment lid is a piece of parchment paper cut in the shape of your pot that lies directly over the meat; it helps to prevent excess moisture from escaping.)
Put the pot in the oven and braise for four hours. At the end of the four hours, carefully remove the oxtail from the pot and strain the remaining liquid. Reduce the liquid until it is a thick and syrupy glaze, and taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt if necessary. Return the oxtail to the pot, cover with the glaze, and reheat in the oven for an additional 20-30 minutes.
Serve to your deliriously happy guests.