Beer braised oxtail with lardons and pickled onions

Happy Birthday Well Worn Whisk! Yep, my little baby blog is 1 year old today. It was exactly a year ago I posted my first recipe, Rhubarb and Blueberry Crumble (note to self: must re-photograph that). So, what have I learned in the past year? Well, I have certainly got better at cooking (more creative, more careful, more discerning); I’m definitely a lot better at taking photos (though still resisting intake of any actual technical information, but composition and lighting is definitely improving); I’ve probably not got any better at writing (if not better, I am at least quicker – maybe too quick!). I also had a second baby, my amazing girl who is 8 months’ old tomorrow, so when this blog started I was 4 months’ pregnant – or thereabouts – with her.

Looking back over my old recipes I realise that, at the very least, this blog will be a record of my recipes, my own little cookbook for my kids. It will always be here. Every word typed in a state of exhaustion, but happy exhaustion. My kids can read those first few recipes and, in 20 years’ time, feel a little of what it was like for their mum at that point in her life. They’ve always been there whilst I’m typing away at night, normally tucked up in bed – or tucked up in my belly in my daughter’s case! Recently, I have been trying to remember that this blogging lark is just that, a lark, and if anything comes of it then great, but if not, then that’s fine too. It started as a hobby, and of course I would love it to grow into something more, but it’s important to remember what really matters in life (and they all begin with ‘f’): family, friends and… food!

This recipe captures my more creative approach to cooking, something I lacked in pre-blog days. Because I have a couple of people to show off to now, as it were, I push myself a bit more. Now I think of different ways to go with an ingredient, whereas once I would have just stuck with what I knew. Instead I try to push what I know and venture that bit further…

Oxtail is a great piece of meat. If you’ve never cooked with it then you are in for a treat if you try this recipe. It’s a cheap cut, which benefits from long slow cooking – which is probably my favourite type of thing to cook, as you know if you’re a regular here. It’s fatty and flavoursome and strong flavours complement it. In the past I have cooked it with rioja and chorizo, which is just divine, but this time I went with a more classic approach but with a twist. Normally I loathe twists in cooking. They make me cringe. But here I think my twist is based on sound cooking common sense, and it works really well. After browning and braising, at the end of the long, slow cooking I added some dark soy and maple syrup (I’ve developed an expensive maple syrup habit, can’t stop using it) for stickiness and sweetness, and then some water to let the thick flavoursome sauce down a little. Finally I added a generous amount of small, sweet pickled onions, which was an idea that I had yesterday. They add instant ‘cheffiness’ but without the bother, and also the vinegar adds an interesting piquant element (think pickled red cabbage alongside beef and ale pie). It creates a glossy, very restaurant-reduced style sauce that is just so tasty. My toddler loved it, as did my mum and Ad. In fact we liked it so much that we forgot to leave some for poor old baby! All it needs to go alongside is some plain mash.

To make enough for 3/4:
1 oxtail (normally chopped into 6 or 7 pieces)
3 tablespoons of plain flour
2 sticks of celery, diced small
2 carrots, diced small
4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
150g lardons (small chunks pancetta or smoked bacon)
2 bay leaves
2 x 500ml bottles of beer (proper ale, I used Spitfire)
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce (must be dark, or use twice as much light soy sauce)
1 mugful of water
20 pickled onions (the sweet, small type)
Fresh parsley

  • Preheat oven to 160C. 
  • First, put 3 tablespoons of plain unseasoned flour on a plate and dip the oxtail pieces in. Dust off and fry in a tablespoon of oil. Brown on all sides. Put to one side. Save the leftover flour. 
  • In the same oil / pan, fry off your carrots, celery, lardons of pancetta/bacon, and garlic. Don’t let it colour. You want the whole lot to release flavour and soften. This’ll take about 20 minutes. 
  • Tip the remaining flour into the pan and stir. Cook out for a couple of minutes. 
  • Add the browned meat to the softened veggies and lardons. Then pour in the beer. Add the bay leaves and bring to boil. Now put the pot in the oven to simmer for 2 1/2 hours. Stir once or twice to make sure it’s not catching on the bottom. 
  • After the stew has cooked right down, you will be left with a bitter tasting (not unpleasantly) and very reduced, thick sauce. Don’t worry, the next step will transform the stew. 
  • Now add your maple syrup, soy sauce, a mugful of cold water and your pickled onions. Give it another 15 minutes in the oven. 
  • Take out of oven, add your freshly chopped flat leaf parsley, stir, and serve with simple mash. Lip smackin’ good!
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