Oxtail stew with butternut squash and cinnamon...

Oxtail is that kind of meat that we tend to forget about, but it's full of flavour and prepared well - long cooking on the bone - there's really few other cuts that can stand next to those big flavours. It's perfect "go to" piece of meat for wintry, slow cooking, comfort food. And it's one of the cheapest cuts too! There'sd a chance you'll have to order it from your local butcher, as we had to do, as unfortunately it's not the most popular cut, hence usually not available on a daily basis.

This recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi's "The Cookbook". For the amount of work involved in this dish I was expecting out of this world flavour sensations! Unfortunately it wasn't to be... It IS tasty, it IS a good, fully rounded dish. You can pick up on cinnamon and butternut squash, which  goes really well with oxtail, gremolata gives it a nice kick of freshness and lifts up the whole dish. Recipe calls for a red wine, I went for Shiraz (but think also of Pinotage), as I think that its strong, spicy flavour is just perfect for any wintry cooking! It really reminds me of Christmas. Textures are good too - soft, but not mushy squash and tender meat. Will I make it again though - I really don't think so.

How to make it...

- olive oil for frying
- 2 kg oxtail pieces
- 200 g shallots, roughly chopped
- 3 large carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 400 ml red wine (something spicy and full bodied like Shiraz will work great here!)
- 650 g Italian canned chopped tomatoes
- 10 sprigs of thyme
- 5 sprigs of rosemary
- zest of ½ orange, peeled off in long strips
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 500 g butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2,5 cm cubes
- 300 ml water
- salt
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- grated zest of 1 large lemon
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place a large casserole dish over a high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When smoking hot, add some of the oxtail pieces and fry on all sides for 4-5 minutes, browning well. Don't sear too many pieces at once or they will boil in their own liquid rather than fry. As the oxtail browns, transfer it to a colander over a plate and leave to drain off excess fat.
Remove most of the fat from the dish and add the shallots, carrots and garlic. Return to a medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are golden.
Add the wine and scrape the base of the casserole with a wooden spoon to mix in any flavoursome bits. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes until almost evaporated. Add the tomatoes. Tie together the thyme and rosemary sprigs with string and drop them in, then add the orange zest, bay leaves, cinnamon, star anise, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and some salt. Return the oxtail to the sauce and bring to a simmer.
Cover first with a circle of baking parchment, placed directly over the stew, and then with a tight-fitting lid, then, in the preheated oven, cook for 2½-3 hours. The meat is ready when it comes away from the bone easily. Lift the oxtail from the sauce, place in a large bowl and leave to cool slightly. Discard the herbs, spices and orange zest from the sauce.

When the oxtail is cool enough, pick the meat from the bones (discarding any excess fat that may have accumulated) and return it to the sauce, along with the squash and 300 ml of water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, covered, for 30-40 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Season to taste.
To make the gremolata, mix together the parsley, lemon zest and garlic; set aside. Transfer the stew to a warm serving bowl. Before serving, sprinkle over the gremolata.


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