Oxtail stew with Cinnamon and Star Anise

I wasn’t a big fan of oxtail, though I have discovered the pleasures of ox cheeks thanks to Heston Blumenthal. However, oxtail can be succulent and tender, especially when slowly braised with lots of onions and red wine. Cinnamon and star anise give it an extra flavour dimension that cuts the richness a little. This recipe works well with lamb shanks, and shanks or shoulder of veal and venison too, though with these you’ll probably want to leave out the chocolate. The stew improves with keeping so, if you can, make it a day or two in advance. I made it on Friday night and served it on Sunday.



IMG_7850, originally uploaded by alecmuffett.

The full set of photos is here.

Serves 6–8

Ingredients
2kg oxtail (about 2 tails), cut into slices 4–5cm thick
2 tablespoons sunflower or groundnut oil
3 onions, sliced
1 bottle of red wine
2–3 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
Thinly pared zest of 1 orange
750ml–1 litre beef stock
25g dark chocolate (about 70 per cent cocoa solids), optional
1–2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the oxtail with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavybased flameproof casserole and fry the meat over a medium-high heat in batches, so as not to overcrowd the pan, until browned on all sides. Remove the browned oxtail with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Reduce the heat to low and gently cook the onions in the casserole for 15–20 minutes, until soft and translucent. Return the meat, raise the heat, then pour in the wine and let it bubble until slightly reduced. Add the cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, peppercorns, orange zest and enough stock just to cover the meat.

Bring to a slow simmer and cook very gently, partially covered, for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more stock as necessary to keep the oxtail moist. When it is ready, the meat should be falling off the bone. (You can also cook it in a low oven at 120°C/Gas Mark ½ with a lid on, if it’s more convenient.)

Drain the meat in a colander set over a bowl, to catch the liquid, then pass the liquid through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Boil until slightly thickened and glossy, then skim off most of the fat. If you’d like to take the meat off the bones, do so once it’s cooled a bit. Discard the cinnamon, star anise and bay leaves, return the meat to the pan, then stir in the chocolate, if using. The chocolate added rich and spicy flavour to the dish, definitely a winner.

If serving straight away, warm through; otherwise, leave to cool and keep in the fridge for a day or two, then reheat slowly and simmer for a minute or two. Check the seasoning before serving, with creamy mash or noodles and a scattering of chopped parsley if you like.

I found this in the Sunday Telegraph (main paper not their magazine) but can’t see it in their online edition. It is a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Every Day by (Bloomsbury £25).

Cranberry port source

This should be made well ahead of time. After tremendous success of my first attempt, after Christams I went and bought as much cranberries as I could get at local Waitrose at half-price and made enough to have a few bottles for the next couple of years. I am told that the sauce tasted even better matured for a year or two.

Ingredients:

300g fresh cranberries
100ml port
1 small stick cinnamon, snapped in half
1 orange finally zested and juiced
140g caster sugar (or to taste) – I always put less sugar than recipes call for and all the alcohol in this preserves it sufficiently
1 tbsp Grand Marnier or Cointreau (which is what I used)

Place the cranberries, port, cinnamon, orange juice and zest in a small non-corrosive saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer uncovered until the berries begin to pop and soften. Stir in the sugar and Cointreau, then adjust the sweetness to taste. The sugar will toughen the cranberries, so do not add it until this stage.
Remove the cinnamon stick and allow the sauce to cool before serving. It will thicken as it cools.

Pot-roast pheasant with chestnuts

This one is a keeper, from The Sunday Times magazine. I made this recipe just once this year, in November, when chestnuts abound and butchers have pheasants on offer. The red current jelly served on the side is a must.

Serves 4
2 oven-ready pheasants
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
100g smoked pancetta, cubed or cut into strips (I often get bacon rashers from local butcher and cube them)
12-15 small round shallots, peeled (or 4 banana shallots, peeled and halved) – 250g in total
1 big stick of celery, halved lengthways and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g cooked, peeled chestnuts, quartered (an easy way to cook chestnuts is to put them in a microwave, covered, for about 3 minutes)
125ml red wine
250ml chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
10cm strip of orange zest
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Season the birds inside and out. Heat the oil in a casserole dish big enough to hold both pheasants. Add the birds and cook for a minute or so each side, to brown the skin. Remove from the pan and put to one side. Place the pancetta and shallots in the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until they start to brown. Throw in the celery and garlic and stir for a couple of minutes more. Add the chestnuts and the birds, breast down. Pour over the wine, bubble for a minute, then add all the remaining ingredients. Stir, bring to a simmer, then cover and put in the oven for 40 minutes.

Finally, turn the pheasants breast side up. Return the dish to the oven for 15-20 minutes without the lid, to brown the breast a little. The pheasants are done when the legs pull away easily from the carcass.