With the collapse of the global financial system, I notice my local butcher is displaying some less expensive cuts, like lamb shanks, oxtail and pork hock, more prominently than usual. The meat in this dish, which would have comfortably served four, cost £3. (That pork hock is in the freezer, and it cost £2.30 – I think I’ll cook it in a Chinese style later this week.)
Oxtail has a very distinctive, rich, dense flavour, unlike other cuts of beef. It’s well worth making good friends with in winter – slow-cooked, it’s one of the most warming dishes I can think of. A casserole made with oxtail will be pleasingly dense without adding any thickening agents; the gelatin in the meat thickens the sauce with no need for flour.
Cooking on a budget needn’t mean a life of porridge and baked beans. I cooked this delicious oxtail until its meat became meltingly soft in a red wine and beef stock sauce (cheap red wine, home-made stock – buy a tub from the supermarket chiller section if you don’t have your own), with some new potatoes I’d walloped with the side of the rolling pin and roasted with some whole, unpeeled garlic cloves and plenty of salt and pepper. There was sauce left over, gelatinous and rich, and studded with vegetables and butter beans. I warmed it through and spooned what was left over a baked potato for lunch the next day.
To serve four, you’ll need:
1kg oxtail, joints separated
150g smoked lardons
2 medium carrots
1 large onion
4 stalks celery
5 cloves garlic
1 bouquet garni
1 bottle red wine
150ml beef stock
2 generous tablespoons tomato purée
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 can butter beans
Salt and pepper
Parsley to garnish
Dice the onion, carrot and celery into small, even cubes, and slice the garlic finely. Set aside. Heat some olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, and brown the oxtail carefully all over. Remove the oxtail to a plate. Fry the lardons in the pan until they start to crisp and release their fat. Lower the heat to low/medium and add the diced vegetables and garlic to the pan. Sauté, moving around vigorously, until the onions and celery are softening and have turned translucent. Return the oxtail and any juices to the pan, stir well to mix, and pour over the wine and stock with a teaspoon of salt and a generous amount of pepper. (You are allowed to subtract a glass of wine from the bottle before you add it to the pan if you really want: cook’s privilege.) Add the bouquet garni, tomato purée, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar to the pan and bring to a gentle simmer, turn the heat right down, pop the lid on and leave to cook gently for four hours, stirring every now and again.
At the end of the cooking time, reduce the sauce with the lid off a little if you’d like it even thicker and richer. Drain the can of beans, and add them to the casserole, simmering for fifteen minutes. The meat will be falling away from the bone easily. Serve with plenty of starchy potatoes to soak up all the delicious sauce.