Recipe and photograph Jan Braai
In the culinary world, a good oxtail stew is one of the global supermodels. Oxtail is a very tough cut of meat full of the connective tissue collagen, and you can’t just braai it on a grid. The only way to prepare oxtail is to cook it for a really long time at a relatively low temperature. What happens then is that the collagen dissolves into gelatine, which gives a typical oxtail dish its rich, full flavour. This recipe is not particularly difficult, but it does take time and needs patience, so start the process well ahead of serving time. As a guide, if your meal’s kick-off time is 8pm, get going at about 3pm.
- 2 kg oxtail pieces
- 1 tot olive oil
- 1 onion (chopped or rings)
- 3 cloves garlic (chopped or crushed)
- 1t chilli powder
- 1 cup port wine (use red wine if you don’t have port)
- 1 cup water
- Potentially some extra liquid (port, water, beef stock)
- 1t salt
- 1t ground black pepper
- 250g button mushrooms
- 1 cup cream (250ml tub)
- 2 tots peach chutney
Choose a potjie from your arsenal that is big enough for you to be able to put all the browned oxtail pieces in a single layer, more or less, on the bottom of the potjie. Fry the oxtail pieces in oil in the potjie for about 10 minutes until well and truly browned. Add the onion, garlic and chilli powder and fry for another few minutes until the onion goes a bit brown.
Now add the port, water, salt and pepper. Close the lid and set your cruise control to a gentle simmer; you want to go low and slow from here on. Adjust the heat by taking away some coals so that the liquid is only just simmering. Basically, the meat will simmer like that for five hours in total. Check in every hour or so to see that the temperature is steady and add coals under the potjie as and when necessary. Add a little bit of extra port, water or beef stock if at any stage of the process there is too much heat and the liquid is reducing too quickly. After about two or three hours, turn each oxtail piece over so that the part that was facing down now faces upwards, and vice versa.
With 90 minutes to go (after about 3½ hours), lift the lid, quickly throw in the mushrooms, cream and peach chutney, and close the lid again. The meat must be very soft and should easily come off the bones when you eat it, but it shouldn’t cook off the bone in the potjie – this is not a soup. After about 4½ hours in total, take off the lid and test to see if the oxtail is starting to come loose from the bone. If not, close the lid and continue cooking until it does. When the oxtail is really tender, taste the meal and season with salt and pepper, then stir carefully. Serve with parsley-flavoured mashed potato.
How To Make Parsley-Flavoured Mashed Potato:
Wash six medium-to-large potatoes, then boil them in salted water until very soft. When their skins start to burst, you’ll know they are ready. You don’t need to peel the potatoes. Discard all the water from the pot and use a masher to mash the potatoes. Remove and discard all large pieces of potato skin that get stuck on the masher, but leave the other bits of skin in the mash; it adds to the flavour. Stir in two tots of butter or cream and two tots of chopped, fresh parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For more delicious braai recipes, get yourself a copy of Jan Braai’s new cookbook, ‘Red Hot’ (R275).