Oxtail Stew

What a wringer of a week it’s been! And not a wringer in a super-busy-but-achieving-a-lot kind of way, but wringer in the putting-out-forest-fires way. It was the type of week where you feel you need a bazooka to trouble-“shoot” and a stiff drink at the end of each day. The type when you feel like it’s been a dozen days already, but realize “it’s only Tuesday??”. That very type. Unless you were born under a frightfully lucky star (in which case, pat-pat, good for you), you know this type too.

But this is not about what I had to muck through this week.

This is about a night I stood on my balcony, in the dark wee hours, feeling as I described above. I looked up at the almost starless sky, and around at the dark windows of my neighbors, compass-askew and bereft, and…just…let go. This is, by and large, a non-denominational blog, and I don’t usually talk about religion (or politics) here. But I do believe in something greater than myself, greater than us all. I believe that This Greatness is beyond anything we could ever imagine, and yet is so familiar in a very primal way. I don’t, however, think about this every day, nor do I talk about it overly much. That night though, I reached out across that dark night and called for Him.

This is also about the very next morning, when I got a phone call from someone sharing incredible news. Unconnected incidents…yet so connected. How I sat dumbstruck, almost disbelieving. And I could hear a voice in my head saying, “You’re dealing with A Professional, kid, and don’t you forget it.

This doesn’t quite have anything to do with oxtail stew except that it’s an incredibly comforting dish and slow cooking, in and of itself, helps me to de-stress. So I’d like to share it with you…a small offering in gratitude for life’s Greatness.

Oxtail Stew
(adapted from Gnocchi with braised oxtail in Jaime Oliver's Cook With Jamie)

  • Olive oil
  • 1 – 1.5 kilo oxtail, cut in chunks
  • 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 leek, trimmed and finely chopped
  • About 1/3 of a 750ml bottle of red wine
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries, crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 400-gram can chopped tomato
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  • A handful of fresh sage leaves
  • A knob of butter
- Heat a heavy-bottomed oven-proof sauce pan or pot and add a couple of glugs of olive oil. When the oil is hot add your oxtail and brown on all sides. Add the celery, onion, carrot, and leek. Cook this gently until everything is soft and the onions are a touch golden.
- When the vegetables are soft, add the wine. Let this bubble for a bit, scraping up any stuck bits. Add the crushed spices, cinnamon, tomato paste, and chopped tomatoes. Top up with a little water until oxtail are just covered. Stir everything together, make sure the oxtail is in one layer, cover the pot, and place in a 300F pre-heated oven. Cook for 4 – 4 1/2 hours or until meat is soft and falling off the bones, checking on it occasionally to stir things around and make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom or getting too dry.
- When the meat has reached your desired degree of softness, add the oregano and simmer on the stovetop for about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a pan. When bubbles have subsided, fry the sage leaves in the butter until they are dark green and crispy. Drain on paper towels.
- Serve the oxtail stew topped with the fried sage leaves.

I love Jamie Oliver, and think him a genius, plus adorable to boot. This dish is a perfect example of what he is good at. Homey, hearty, real-life, grandmother-y sort of sustenance. It nourishes as well as comforts. In the original version the oxtail meat is taken off the bone and shredded, and used as a chunky sauce for gnocchi (I know, brilliant and must be tried someday!). It also uses a whole oxtail, of which I had no access, so I adjusted the quantities to suit a lesser amount. I suggest whizzing the fennel and juniper in a coffee grinder – I used my mortar and pestle and still came across some bumps in my stew. The overall flavor is awesome, what with the fennel and juniper and cinnamon and oregano and sage, and the oxtail just melts into soft and sticky chunks. Be sure to cook it gently for as long as it takes to get really tender. Be patient, it is worth it. C and I loved it, and I am happy to report that little C loved it as well. I did shred the leftovers and had it with linguine and a generous grating of pecorino --- I think I may just make another batch solely for this purpose.

The weekend is finally (finally!) here. It’s an incredibly sunny day, after weeks of typhoons and grey skies. The skies today are bright blue and my little tadpole has graduated to one less floater in swim class. We are going Halloween costume and pajama shopping and, hopefully, on a hunt for some cookware. I’ve got a new pair of fabulous 5-inch wedges from my favorite boy in the world (that’s C in case you're wondering ;)). Relaxing plans with family and, right after posting this, a glorious nap. That’s not to say that storms won't come again. They will I know…and sometimes with such fervor you will get the wind knocked out of you. But Greatness is always there to hang on to when things get rough. It’s all around actually. And sometimes, it also knocks the wind out of you…in a good way :)