I had never cooked oxtail before, partly because I was not exactly sure what animal it was the tail of (an ox, surely no?) and also because I don't remember ever eating it. It wasn't really on my radar. But Barbara, thank you for introducing me to this beautiful dish. It is rich and comforting and so full of flavour, perfectly balanced by the peppers and fennel. I also served some spinach chopped and sautéed with olive oil and garlic on the side. I've cooked it three times in the last two weeks and my butcher's face lights up each time I ask him for the cows' tail pieces. I wonder where the tails usually go?
Here is what Barbara has to say about this recipe from her book Stirring the Senses:
Oxtail is the most luscious of meats but must be cooked in advance so that the fat (which can be considerable) can set and be removed.
In this Piedmontese dish the grilled peppers in red, gold and green, add a wonderful smokiness very much appreciated in this northern region of Italy.
Monforte d'Alba is surrounded by some of the most famous vineyards in the world producing rich wines which go perfectly with meat dishes such as this oxtail. In fact Il Giardino da Felicin has a cellar of the most magnificent wines which are always decanted and served in huge magnificent glasses.
OXTAIL WITH PEPPERS
16-20 good sized pieces of oxtail - 2 oxtails
5 medium echalots finely sliced
l carrot, chopped
l celery stalk, chopped
bouquet garni (a bundle of parsely, thyme and bay leaves tied with string)
butter and/or olive oil
700mls fruity red wine
200mls of pureed fresh ripe tomato
water if necessary
sea salt, pepper
yellow, red and green peppers, fennel
PREHEAT OVEN 160C
OXTAIL: Brown the oxtail in a little butter or olive oil until well coloured all over. Do this in several batches so that there is only one layer of oxtail in the pot. Remove when coloured and add the vegetables. Cook for a few minutes and put the oxtail back on the bed of vegetables. Pour over the fresh tomato puree and when boiling, add the wine. Allow to boil and reduce a little. Season and add the bouquet garni. Cover with baking parchment and a lid and bake in a 140C oven for about 1 -2 hours or until tender. Check the amount of liquid after 40 minutes and add water if necessary. Turn off oven heat and leave the oxtail for 30 minutes or so.
Take out the oxtail and cover with baking parchment. Sieve the sauce and cool. Chill in the refrigerator to set the fat.
Remove the fat and put the jellied sauce in a pot. Add some water and season to taste. Bring slowly to the boil. Add the oxtail and reheat gently, covered or reheat in 150C oven. Taste the sauce and reduce a little if necessary.
GRILLED PEPPERS: Cut the peppers into rings, removing the seeds. The peppers can be first peeled with a potato peeler. Put on a rack in a baking dish with thin slices of fennel and brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook under a preheated grill for about 20 minutes turning the fennel when browned.
TO SERVE: Allow 4-5 pieces of oxtail per person. Moisten with some sauce and serve with grilled pepper and green beans flavoured with young garlic. (Or in my case spinach sautéed with garlic).