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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Dark, sticky meat for a winter's night



Apologies for the delay in posts. I was, rather suddenly, asked in for interview at a large university here in Melbourne, and was offered a job and asked to begin work within a few days! New jobs are always pretty exhausting and overwhelming, especially when they're in a field in which you require a lot of training, so I've been a bit tired when I come home.
But it's an excellent job with great working conditions, surrounded by the academia I love, located close to home, and just the type of thing I'd dreamt about, and never thought I could get. As a newly graduated librarian, with degrees in both European Studies and Musicology (useful!!), I've been faffing about without real focus for 6 months on on contracts in city corporations; a good experience but not my real interest. And now, in about a year, I will be one of the small population of specialised original cataloguers in Australia. Until then I have a steep learning curve!

But back to the focus of this blog....we've been having terrible, unseasonable, warm, dry, sunny, springtime weather here in Melbourne. It's no good! Sunny days of 18 degrees are fine...in October, but not in August! I like my winter days to be properly wintery; the colder, rainier and icier the better. If you're going to do winter, at least do it properly. I haven't had nearly enough of a chance to get right into comfort cooking and baking. Bah! Having said that, and after spending a day in shirtsleeves, sunning myself on the lawn at lunchtime, I'm very relieved to hear that tomorrow will have a top temperature of 12 degrees with thunderstorms. Yay!!! And next week looks to have a stretch of 10 and 11 degree days - brilliant!!

So, in honour of the properly wintery weather approaching, I'm posting about a meal I made a few weeks ago on another cold night from Nigel Slater's book Appetite. On a whim I bought some oxtail at a butcher a few weeks ago, and threw it into the freezer vaguely wondering how I should cook it. When the opportunity came, I looked through various books and tossed up the relative merits of Stephanie Alexander, Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater. Nigel won, with the simplicity of his recipe which meant I wouldn't have to nick out to the supermarket and get extra ingredients.
Nigel writes: ...This is one of those dishes where it seems to make no difference how you approach it. The magic here belongs to the food as it slowly does its stuff in the oven, rather than to the meddling of the cook. Sounds perfect; chuck it in the oven and let it do itself for about 2 hours. Oxtail, with its gelatinous bones and highly flavoured meat needs long, slow cooking, while you are free to do other things, content in the knowledge that dinner is simmering away.

The 2 hours turns the meat and gravy into a wonderfully sticky creation; see the before and after oven shots:


After two hours, the vegetables are soft, the meat is unctious and falling off the bones, and the entire bottle of red wine (yes!) that makes the sauce has reduced to a thick, sticky gravy. Mmmm. This meal just cries out for serious sloppy hand eating; it's almost impossible to eat oxtail with a knife and fork. You just have to get your hands and elbows involved, and expect to end up with a face full of gravy searching for the toothpicks and napkins. I'd never order oxtail stew in a restaurant for exactly those reasons.
I added the celeriac we had sitting about in the fridge rather than the celery Nigel specifies, but the whole point of Nigel Slater's cooking is to go by instinct and mood; if you think celeriac would work as well, maybe even better than celery, then I reckon he'd be all for it.

Served with piles of fluffy mashed potato to mop up the gravy, and a refreshing, peppery bundle of rocket on the side for a bit of contrast, you have a very satisfying dinner. It's really the quintessential meal for a cold winter's night, and one to be enjoyed with family and friends. After all, are there many other people you'd feel comfortable witnessing your bone-sucking technique with gobs of mashed potato in your hair?
Read on for the recipe:


Dark, sticky meat for a winter's day.
Nigel Slater Appetite

Serves 2, with enough for seconds.

an oxtail - cut into joints
flour - a little for dusting the oxtail
cayenne pepper
dry mustard powder
ground black pepper
salt
butter - thick slice
carrots - 2 or 3, peeled and roughly chopped
onions - about 2, peeled and roughly chopped
celery - a rib or two, chopped
seasonings - garlic and bay leaves (4 or 5), plus one or two from: orange peel, juniper berries, thyme
tin of chopped tomatoes (optional)
a bottle of strong red wine (like an Aussie shiraz)

-Preheat oven to 160C. Trim the meat of fat and toss each joint into flour that you have seasoned with the cayenne, mustard powder and ground black pepper.
-Melt the butter in a roasting tin and seal the meat. Turn each piece as it colours, then add the carrots, onions, celery and some chopped garlic and let them colour a little, in the rapidly disappearing butter.
-Add the bay leaves, then pour over the wine and tinned tomatoes, and add in any extra seasonings - a few strips of orange peel, 8 or 10 juniper berries, or a few sprigs of thyme.
-Bring to the boil, cover with oiled greaseproof paper and place in the oven for an hour. After an hour the meat will be brown; then turn the meat over and leave for a further hour. The sauce will have reduced and become intensely flavoured; there will not be a great deal of it, especially if you haven't added the tinned tomatoes, but it will be strong and sticky. With the tomatoes, there will be more sauce with less intensity of flavour, but also extremely tasty.
-Serve with mashed potato, crushed tinned cannellini beans, or mashed root vegetables.


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