May 16, 2010

Slow-braised Ox Tail Stew

As the mercury drops to mark the beginning of the cooler months, it's time to bring out those dusty casserole pots and heavy-bottomed pans for delicious, heart-warming and enriching braises, pasta bakes, soups and pot-roasts!

For a successful braise, try to invest in a durable, heavy-duty casserole pot with a tight-fitting lid to give you good heat control and to lock in moisture, which helps the meat tenderise. Depending on the type of cut and size of the meat that you are cooking with, braising until it reaches the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness can take as quick as 1 hour, or up to a long 7 or 8 hours.

Here's a stew I made last winter, using Gourmet Traveller's recipe for "Beef √† la mode," as a basis for what I did. Cuts that you can use include: ox tail, beef chuck, osso bucco, lamb neck, beef blade, beef cheeks and lamb shoulder. 

Serves 6:
- 2.5kg ox tail
- ¾ cup plain flour, seasoned well
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 12 baby carrots, trimmed
- 1 small celeriac, diced
- 1 celery heart, cut into 1cm pieces (the tender, innermost stalks in a bunch of celery, which impart the most flavour)
- 200g button mushrooms
- 12 shallots
- 100g mild round pancetta, cut into thin strips
- 1 tbs red wine vinegar
- 250ml red wine
- 400g can finely chopped tomatoes
- 2-3 litres beef stock
- Few sprigs thyme (and fresh bay leaf or rosemary if you like)

For the Gremolata:
- ½ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ½ lemon, zest finely grated
- ½ garlic clove, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 150°C. Place flour in a bowl and coat each piece of ox tail evenly in the flour, shaking off excess. Heat oil in an oven-proof casserole pot over medium-high heat. Carefully add the ox tail, turning each piece occasionally until browned, scraping base of pan to prevent sediment from burning. Remove from pot and set aside. Add vegetables and pancetta to the pot, stir until browned (3-5 minutes). Remove from pot, cover with foil and set aside. 

Deglaze the pot with vinegar, add the red wine, scrape the base of the pot to dislodge sediment and simmer until the wine is reduced by half (5-7 minutes). Add the tomato, ox tail, vegetable mixture, herbs and stock and bring to the boil. Ensure that you use enough stock to completely cover the meat and vegetables. If you prefer a richer braise, use less stock. Cover with a lid and bake in the oven, stirring occasionally, until the meat is very tender and falling off the bone (approximately 5 hours).

Meanwhile, for gremolata, combine ingredients in a bowl.

Serve the stew with mashed potato, polenta, rice, couscous or plenty of crusty bread. Don't forget to sprinkle over the gremolata - it completes the dish by cutting through the richness of the braise with its zingy taste, while adding vibrancy with its bright colour.

Slow-braised Ox Tail Stew on Mashed Potato

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