My mother loved traditions, and she loved seasonal cooking. She loved celebrating “The First [insert food type] of [insert season]”. And she was strict about it! The first time I ate a hot cross bun before Good Friday I was in my twenties and I felt so rebellious!
When the cold weather starts, it’s time for The First Oxtail of Winter on my mother’s calendar. I eat oxtail all year round, I confess. But there is nothing nicer than a melting hot oxtail on a cold winter evening. And the smell that permeates the house makes me feel like Martha Stewart.
The First Oxtail of Winter was such a big deal on my mother and Janet’s calendars that often the two families would have to have it together. I remember one year when both Mom and Janet made an oxtail – and one was tough – but because they had combined the dishes we thankfully never knew whose it was. (Although obviously I assured Mom that it must have been Janet’s, and I am sure that her family assured her that it must have been my mom’s!)
On the subject of tough tails, this is something that just happens. I don’t know if there are some jolly oxen out there who wag their tails more than their friends, making a more muscular tougher meat. Or maybe it has to do with freezing and things like that. But my experience has been a bit strange – the only tough tails that I have made have been when I bought the meat from a butcher. You’d think that was a guarantee of better meat – but it seems not. The tails that I get at my local Spar (in Craighall Park) are always tender and succulent. (The butcher there is excellent and he will cut you whatever you need if you just ask!)
Mom’s oxtail was derived, I think, from an Elizabeth David recipe which she then simplified. I simplified it even further! I think the original recipe calls for two cooks – you cook it once then rest it and take off the top layer of fat that settles, before reheating it. Oxtail can be a bit fatty and rich, and I think I might actually try this the next time I make it. It does, however, make it into a bit of an all day project.
It’s a long slow cook anyhow, which is my favourite thing – you put it in the oven and get on with life – do your work, go out, feed and bath your kids, do whatever it is that you have to do. And then supper is ready.
So, you want the recipe?
Oxtail (depends how many you are cooking for)
3 cloves of garlic
4 medium onions sliced
3 large carrots sliced
1 bottle red wine
500 ml rich beef stock
Salt and pepper
Bouquet garni (bunch of fresh herbs tied up)
Small mushrooms (I am allergic to them so I don’t actually do this part)
My original recipe says brown the oxtail pieces well, and then remove them and saute the onions and carrots, and then add back the oxtail and garlic.
I actually put the sliced onions, garlic, carrots in to saute for a minute, then add the oxtail. Brown the meat well.
Add the wine, and enough stock to cover the meat.
Add the salt, pepper and bouquet garni.
Put a lid on your pot and put in the oven at 160/300.
The longer it is in, the better – about 5 hours is good.
Add the little onions and mushrooms about 1h30 before the end. I often forget to do this. Almost always, in fact.
Keep an eye on it, and add stock if it is looking dry.
Remember to sprinkle the parsley at the end – again, I almost always forget this!
Serve with mash and a green vegetable – beans are good.
Sometimes my mom would only make a First Oxtail and a Last Oxtail and nothing in between. Don’t let that happen to you!