May 3, 2012

Slow-cooked Ox Tail Stew with Olives

One of my favourite types of dishes to cook are slow-braised stews. I love the fact that even if you add in your own bits and pieces of ingredients, changing things up every time, the end result will still be a delicious, mouth-watering and enriching stew. The magic comes from cooking secondary cuts of meat (cuts that are tough from doing the most work on an animal) on a low heat, which in turn slowly breaks down the connective tissue in the meat and melts it into soft, silky gelatin, giving the braise a wonderfully flavoursome and rich-mouth feel.

 Serves 6:
- 3 dried bay leaf
- Handful fresh thyme
- 6cm strip orange zest
- 2.5kg ox tail
- ½ cup plain flour, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper
- Olive oil
- 250g pancetta, chopped- 1 large brown onion, diced
- 4 carrots, diced
- 3 celery sticks, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1½ cups dry white wine
- 1 tin diced tomatoes
- 1 litre veal stock
- 1 cup black olives, pitted
- Gremolata, to serve (combine ¼ cup chopped parsley, grated rind 1 lemon, ½ tsp finely chopped garlic)

Either tie the bay leaf, thyme and strip of orange zest together with kitchen string or fill it into a small sachet, net, cheesecloth or tea strainer. Set aside.

Wash and pat dry the ox tail. Roll each piece into the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. Set aside.

Place a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or casserole pot over med-high heat and fry the pancetta for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Set aside in a large dish.

In the same saucepan, drizzle in a few glugs of olive oil. Brown the ox tail, doing it in batches if they do not all fit in one single layer. Set aside with the pancetta.

Pour in the white wine, allowing it to bubble fiercely and deglaze the bottom of the pan to take up all the caramelized bits from the browning. Add the onion, carrot, celery and tin of diced tomatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes to reduce a little.

Return the ox tail and pancetta to the saucepan/casserole pot of vegetables, add the bouquet garni of herbs and pour in enough stock to cover everything. Cook over a low heat, at a gentle simmer where only 1-2 bubbles appear at a time, for approximately 3 hours, or until the meat is tender. Discard the bouquet garni and skim the top of any fat or oils, then add the olives and cook for a further 45 minutes. As you can see in the picture below, I skimmed the stew AFTER adding the olives, which proved to be a bit of an obstacle course trying to maneuver the spoon around them!

The stew will taste fabulous as it is at this point. However, if you have the time to do so and prefer a thicker sauce, strain the cooking juices from the meat and vegetables into a smaller saucepan (return the ox tail, vegetables and olives to its original cooking pot). Reduce the strained sauce, simmering until it is reduced by a third or your desired consistency. Pour this sauce back over the meat and vegetables, heat up again and serve while hot with the gremolata and mashed potato, polenta or pasta.

Slow-cooked Ox Tail Stew with Olives

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