A winter stew

February 21, 2011

I went out on Saturday thinking it was time to do an oxtail stew. But as my friendly neighbourhood butcher pointed out, cows tend only to have one tail and thus he’d run out.  He suggested shin instead. I must admit I’d always thought  shin was just another variety of cheap braising steak, but I think I’m now a convert to this humble cut.

Looking at the meat pictured  right you can see some of the connective tissue and it’s this that breaks down during long slow cooking to help create  an  extraordinary rich, thick sauce. It’s got to be long and slow but you are rewarded with ultra-tender, ultra-tasty meat.

I’ve no pictures of the fabulous stew I’m afraid but it was simplicity itself. For a generous meal for two people,  toss one pound of  meat in seasoned flour (try adding a little mustard powder too), fry an onion and some garlic, brown the meat, toss in some carrots, a few sprigs of thyme, a bayleaf.  Let it all stick a bit to the bottom of the pan and then add half a bottle of red plonk, making sure to stir up all those wonderful sticky bits from the bottom of the pan all up to mix.   Put it in a casserole, cover tightly, cook for as long as you’ve got as low as you can – at least two hours – and just let the magic happen.  It’s worth checking every hour or so because this will be a fairly dry stew and you don’t want to over do it.  

I’ll definitely be looking to use this specific cut for a range of other slow cooked recipes now.

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Oxtail Stew

November 9, 2009

An  epic November stew for dinner this evening. Oxtail is one of those those cuts that looks inedible but with long, slow, alchemical cooking turns into something quite, quite wonderful. It’s not one of those dishes you could choose in a restaurant,  or would serve to your sophisticated friends at a dinner party. You plate it up, use a knife and fork for a bit, and then succumb to the inevitable and pick up the bones and chew and suck on the bones for all you are worth.

Don’t be tempted to finesse it, to  introduce –  I dunno –  fennel or something. Just slice an onion and a carrot, trim the meat of excess fat, brown the meat, cover with a mixture of stock and wine according to you preference and budget, and cook for as long as you can at the lowest heat you can. At least three hours, but why not five, during which time you’ll need to skim off the rendered fat but by the end of which the meat will be falling of the bones.  You might want to introduce a little tomato puree at a late stage, maybe a little bit of sugar, but that’s it. Leave the rest to the magic in those bones. The unctous goo that comes out of the bones will thicken the juices into a glossy, sticky, glorious sauce.

If  I’d planned better I’d have made some dumplings. As it was, a baked potato was quite sufficient.  At this point I suppose I should apologise to the vegetarians who’ve made it this far. All I’d say is that ‘nose to tail’ eating is surely a defensible ethical position once you’ve decided you are going to eat meat.

Anyway here’s a picture – the lack of restaurant quality presentation is entirely deliberate.

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