Sunday, November 23, 2014

Offaly nice

I suppose it was bound to happen. All the pre-existing conditions were there: my love of slow cooking, the vogue for offal, the arrival of winter. And then I wandered into the SuperValu near my parents' home and spotted oxtail for sale at the butcher's counter.
As a rule, I avoid buying meet in supermarkets but SuperValu implemented a rigorous trace-back system as long ago as 1997, and their produce has never let me down, so when I saw the rounds laid out in the display cabinet, I stopped in my tracks.
My sister still raves about a chilli con carne she made after bulking out beef mince with some slow-cooked oxtail. And a friend of mine swears that oxtail is a delicacy in his wife's native Korea - the first time he brought some home from his local SuperValu here in Dublin, she castigated him for blowing so much of the housekeeping on such a luxury.
Of course, the truth is that oxtail is cheap as chips. I picked up 500g for less than €3.
I should have been a bit more discerning in my selection: in the end I got only a couple of the plump rounds that look like meaty oranges cut in half; the rest was made up of the longer, thinner joints.
But when I got around to cooking them (at midnight on Fri, natch), I refused to be deterred. For the first time in quite a while, I consulted Nigella Lawson's How To Cook, where I found an 'illicit' recipe for oxtail stew (she was writing during a two-year ban on oxtail in the late Nineties).
I'm afraid I strayed from her recipe: I dispensed with the mustard powder, flat leaf parsley, powdered mace, ground cloves (waaay too Christmas cake-like for me...) and the Mackeson beer.
But I was happy to brown the joints in hot oil, tip them into the slow cooker, then use the oil to sweat down chopped onion, chopped garlic, finely chopped celery and sliced carrots before adding in half a tin of tomatoes, about 150ml just-boiled water, half a beef stock cube, and about 200ml red wine.
After that mixture came to the boil, I let it simmer for a few minutes before throwing the whole lot into the slow cooker, tucking in 2 bay leaves, covering and retiring for the night.
The following day, the flat was filled with the aroma of rich, hearty, warming casserole, and I unplugged the slow cooker. My plan was to degrease the stew once it had cooled to room temperature but I'm afraid I'm a bit of a wuss about grease. I'd expected the fat to harden to globules I could neatly lift out. Because I used olive oil to brown the meat, I guess, the oil remained stubbornly fluid so after a couple of attempts at soaking up little puddles of grease with a kitchen towel, I decided to leave well enough alone.
While I was faffing with slimy grease, I decided I might as well do the unpleasant business of removing the unctuous morsels of flesh from the vertebrae. I'm quite squeamish so I couldn't swear that I got every last trace of meat from the bones. Urgh.
Anyway, last night, I steamed a few potatoes, returned the casserole to the hob (this time in a saucepan), reheated it thoroughly, mashed the spuds and poured myself a glass of the wine I'd cracked open the night before.
It was *delicious*.
The richness of the gravy, the tenderness of the meat, the sweetness of the vegetables... it was the culinary equivalent of a warm embrace.
Would I do it again? I absolutely would - though I'd be more choosy at the butcher's counter. And I'd enlist a less grease-phobic friend to help with the de-boning. Urgh.

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