Dorothy Hartley wrote in her Good Things in England that oxtail’s meatiness is due to the cattle storing reserve fat in the tail through the winter. Certainly this braise becomes quite unctuous as it cooks, which is why many recipes recommend making it the day before so any fat which rises to the top can be skimmed off. The making ahead will also give the flavours more time to develop – and yet I don’t do it. With its 3 hours in the oven I’ve never known oxtail done this way to be anything other than deep and complex and delicious when eaten straight away.
Its slug of port helps things along. That has long been a common addition to oxtail soups, in that case usually added in at the end for richness. For the same reason it works well in this braise cooking along with the pancetta, vegetables, juniper berries and wine. The end result is as flavoursome as could be wished for.
When choosing your oxtail pieces heed Jane Grigson’s advice: small, skinny ones can be “insipid” compared to the heartier cuts.
Braised Oxtail – for 2
4 pieces of oxtail – c.750g
3tbsp flour – seasoned with salt and pepper
knob of butter
2tbsps olive oil
2 onions – sliced
70g diced pancetta
2 carrots – cut into big chinks
2 sticks celery – cut into big chunks
2 cloves garlic – chopped
1tsp juniper berries – crushed
250ml red wine
bundle of herbs – bay, rosemary, thyme
half tbsp wholegrain mustard
to garnish: a handful of chopped parsley mixed with the zest of an orange or lemon
Preheat the oven to 150C.
Melt the butter and oil in a casserole that will be able to take the oxtail pieces in one layer. As that is melting roll the oxtail sections in the flour. Brown the oxtail all over in the fat and then remove with a slotted spoon.
Cook the onions and pancetta gently in the remaining fat in the casserole (adding more oil first if needed) until they are softening and starting to go a little browned. Then add the carrots, celery and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add the juniper berries.
Return the oxtail to the dish and stir everything together. Pour over the port and the red wine. You need to just cover the meat. If you need more liquid use wine, stock or just some water. Add in the bundle of herbs and a couple of broad slices of orange zest (cut with as little as the white pith as possible). Season, bring to the boil, put the lid on and then cook in the oven for about 3 hours.
If you are doing the braise ahead of time, allow it to cool and then skim off the fat that rises to the top before reheating.
Before serving, stir through the mustard and sprinkle over the parsley and zest. They’ll be a nice contract to the braise’s intensity.
Mash alongside is traditional. Rice works well too. Greens are a must.