Oxtail is another of those great cuts of meat that give more pound for pound than many of their more well-known and affluent cuts. Being the tail of the bovine, oxtail, like beef cheeks, spends its time working overdrive in its assigned job; the tail spending its life whipping and thrashing at the rear of the animal. Such arduous action leads to flavoursome yet inherently tough muscle. In addition each of the vertebrae of the oxtail is cushioned with cartilage, sinew and fat, and as such it needs long slow cooking to break them down. Once this cooking process is complete the cartilage breaks down into gelatine, which gives the meat it’s moist and really, really tasty character.
Suet will ring alarm bells for many – its image has changed from the Eliza Acton years where it was regarded as an essential addition to unctuous sweet steamed puddings and meaty pies. It’s probably fair to say that its high calorific value and high level of saturated fat make it one of those ingredients that the modern day culinary wizard avoids. I am in the once in a blue-moon corner, where its propensity to contribute to a melt in the mouth, yet sturdy, pastry outweighs anything perceivably bad about it.
For those unaware, suet is the protective fatty layer of a cow’s kidneys. I acquire my suet as a solid piece from a local butcher. To rid of any sinew, blood or cartilage I render the fat in a warm oven over a few hours, at which point the unrequired solids have aggregated at the bottom of the dish, set apart from the liquid suet. Once filtered the liquid sets at room temperature, the result is the pure suet. I then freeze it in disposable cups and grate it when required. Of course, if available, packeted shredded suet can be used.
This recipe is honour to a winter’s day, and something you would imaging Will Shakespeare feasting on after a long day’s inscribing of witty and dramatic tale in the environment of a harsh English December; suet pastry, succulent and slow cooked oxtail in a refreshing pilsner ale, and a splattering of fresh sweet popping garden peas. (ok, pilsner is a little after Will’s time, but I am sure you get the gist).
Oxtail, Pilsner and Pea Steamed PuddingsPrint
- ■ 2 carrots | Peeled and sliced.
- ■ 2 sticks celery | Sliced.
- ■ 6 parsley stalks | Tied in a bundle.
- ■ 2 tbsp. olive oil |
- ■ 90g field mushrooms | Sliced.
- ■ 1 tbsp. olive oil |
- ■ 2 brown onions |Finely chopped.
- ■ 2 cloves |
- ■ 1 cinnamon stick |
- ■ 1 star anise |
- ■ 2 tbsp. olive oil |
- ■ 10 black peppercorns | Coarsely crushed.
- ■ 1kg oxtail pieces |
- ■ 2 tbsp. olive oil |
- ■ 330ml pilsner beer | European style like Stella Artois.
- ■ 400g diced tomatoes | Tinned are perfect for this dish.
- ■ 200ml veal stock | See below for recipe link.
- ■ 150g fresh peas | blanched for 2 minutes.
- For the Pastry:
- ■ 320g self-raising flour |
- ■ 160g suet | Grated or shredded. Fresh or packeted is fine.
- ■ ½ tsp. sea salt | If using flaked salt grind it before adding.
- ■ 1½ tsp. baking powder |
- ■ 10g butter | Melted. Used to grease the pudding bowls.
- ■ 1 egg | Beaten. Used as an egg wash.
First let’s get the oxtail slow cooking. Preheat an oven to 130 deg C. (265 deg F.).
In a medium sized frying pan over a low to medium sweat the carrots, celery and parsley stalks in 2 tbsp. of olive oil until softened, but not browned.
Remove the carrots, celery and parsley stalks add 1 more tablespoon of oil to the frying pan, along with the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms until browned and softened and remove from the pan. Now add 2 more tbsp. of olive oil to the pan and then add the onions, cloves, cinnamon stick and star anise. Sweat until the onions are soft and translucent, but not browned. Remove from the pan and turn the heat up to high. Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and when the oil is very hot place the oxtail pieces, side down, in the pan. Brown the sides, tops and bottoms and then remove from the pan.
Drain away any fat/ oil left in the frying pan and then put it back on a high heat. Deglaze the pan with 100ml of the beer, using a wooden spoon to scrape away any delicious brown bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.
To a casserole dish add the oxtail, all the sautéed vegetables and spices, black peppercorns, tomatoes, rest of the beer and the veal stock. Do not add the peas as these will go in later. Cover the casserole dish with a double layer of foil and the lid (this prevents liquid loss during cooking) and cook in the oven for 4 hours.
Meanwhile, we’ll make the pastry.
In to a clean bowl mix the self-raising flour, suet, salt and baking powder. Sprinkle 150ml of iced cold water over the mix and then bring together using your hands until a dough is formed. Knead the dough lightly until it is smooth and then let it rest in a fridge, wrapped in cling film, for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough in to 4 equal portions and roll each portion into a circular shape approximately 4mm in thickness. Take 4*250ml (1cup) pudding basins, brush the insides of each with a little melted butter and then line each one with a pastry circle, ensuring that the dough sits flush against the basin. Using a small, sharp knife trim the excess pastry from each basin and form all the off-cuts into one ball. Split this ball into 4 portions and roll out each one in to a circle large enough to form a lid for each pudding. Each lid will be about 6mm in thickness.
After 4 hours remove the casserole dish from the oven and carefully pick out all of the oxtail and any meat that has fallen from the bone, then leave to cool in a clean bowl. Drain the cooking gravy through a fine sieve and discard the vegetables and spices. Return the cooking gravy to the casserole dish and on a medium to high heat reduce it by about two thirds. Meanwhile when the oxtail is just cool enough to handle pick the meat off the bone and flake it, and discard any hard fat, gelatine or bone. To the meat add the half of the reduced cooking gravy and the blanched fresh peas. Fill each lined pudding basin with the oxtail and peas.
Use the egg wash to moisten the edges of the pastry and then fit a lid on to each pudding, pinching around each circumference to seal the lid to the pastry wall. Trim off any excess dough. Place a small square of baking paper over each pudding, securing it with an elastic band. Put the puddings in to a wide pan and then fill the pan with hot tap water until the level is about ¾ the way up the side of the pudding basins. Bring the water to a simmer and cook the puddings for 35 minutes. When cooked, carefully remove the puddings from the basins and just prior to serving inject each pudding with some of the warmed left over reduced cooking sauce. Serve right away…
The recipe for veal stock is here