I have every intention of having a more healthy January, cutting out canapés until next year, climbing more mountains (one of my resolutions!) and eating more salads and vegetables. I couldn't face the thought of any more meat last week, and I'm fully engaged in experimenting with Chinese cookery with the help of Fushcia Dunlop, which, handily, is very vegetable focused. But sometimes you're just cold and tired and feeling a little bit frail, you need help, you need the comfort of a slow cooked rich warm stew. There is just no escaping it. This is my current favourite to help me along in times of need...
A lovely slow cooked stew using oxtail and beef shin, cheap cuts of meat that become sticky and melty after hours of cooking, shredded and pulled apart in a rich red wine sauce with buttery polenta and sweet sharp red cabbage. I think people are often nervous of unusual cuts in the butchers, knowing what exactly to ask for, prices per weight instead of per piece, worrying you're going to be handed far too much or far too little. I have started to be more adventurous, with both success and failure. I won't be cooking devilled kidneys again in a hurry, but oxtail and I are friends now and really enjoy hanging out together!
These amounts will serve 2 generously. Chop 2 carrots, 2 sticks of celery and an onion, add to a pot, with some thyme, parsley and a bay leaf. I used a mix of oxtail and shin, you can use both or just one or the other; the ox tail adds a real stickyness to the stew but you don't get a huge amount of meat from it, what you do get is delicious, but I'd go for both. Use about 5 pieces of ox tail, approximately half a whole tail, then about 500g of beef shin. I got mine from the Grainger market and it was lovely looking meat, dark red and rich... Cut it into big chunks.
Add the meat to the pot with the vegetables and herbs along with a big piece of orange rind, then cover the whole lot with cold water and bring it to the boil. Don’t add any seasoning at this point as you reduce the sauce quite a lot later. For the first 5 minutes skim off any foam or brown scum from the surface, then leave to simmer for 3-4 hours, until the meat is melty and soft.
While that is simmering make the braised red cabbage. Shred quarter of a red cabbage finely, then add it to a pan with a diced cooking apple, and half a diced onion, about 250ml of cider, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and 100g of brown sugar. Some orange zest and a teaspoon of allspice, 15g of butter and some salt and pepper. Then leave to simmer very gently with the lid on for an hour, taste to see if you want it sweeter, or with more vinegar after about 10 minutes when everybody in the pan has got to know each other.
When it is ready remove the meat from the pan and leave to cool. Leave a few bits in with the vegetable and you can have this for lunch the next day, it makes a lovely beef broth, with a bit of seasoning and a little bit of meat shredded into the stock. When the meat has cooled enough to touch pull the oxtail off the bone and put apart the large chunks of shin.
Ladle about 4 ladles of stock into another pan, and add ¼ bottle of red wine, then boil to reduce until you have a thicker sauce, then add the meat back into the sauce. You can add some wild mushrooms at this point also, I've soaked dried ones and stirred them into the sauce on one occasion, delicious. Serve with buttery polenta and braised red cabbage.
The meat is rich and soft in its red wine sauce, with the buttery warm soft polenta and sharp sweet red cabbage it is a match made in heaven.. It'll warm you up a treat over winter and into miserable January...