Can you tell I’m back in the kitchen for a bit? I had a whole weekend to myself, so I headed over to The Butchers Quarter, stocked up, and got cooking. Along with yesterday’s meatloaf, it gave me the opportunity to revisit one of my mum’s recipes for oxtail stew. Oxtail is a pretty cheap cut of meat, and whilst it does have bones, these are easy to remove after cooking. And the flavour and texture is so, so worth it.
As a kid, when it got cold, stew was the go to dish. It was cheap, easy and filling. And the longer it sat on the stove, the better it would get. I can’t blame my mum, four kids, her and my dad – plus my dad’s allotment meant we had a lot of veggies to use. And dad got experimental with the veggies. I had salsify long before it got a fancy reputation and chefs started using it all over the place.
But it had one unfortunate side effect. I’m now not a massive stew fan. Even the most unctuous of dishes slow cooked for hours has me feeling a bit meh. I can happily make it for others, but when it comes to eating it I struggle to summon up enthusiasm. Yes even with proper dumplings.
I have, however, found a way around it. Turn it into pie. Cobbler even. Make it with a little less liquid, and it’s not stew anymore. It’s still rich, but it’s more dense, stick to your ribs, fill your boots food. I know, I know, it’s all in my head, but it works, so I’m going to keep doing it.
So, this is my mum’s oxtail stew condensed and laid in a pastry case. You could, of course, just top this base with a pastry lid and make a pot pie. Or even make a scone style dough and make a cobbler – both work well. Or even add more liquid and make a stew.
For me, it’s got to be a pie.
Oxtail and Vegetable Pie
For the filling:
- 2.5 kg Oxtail
- 2 Leeks, diced
- 3 Carrots, diced
- 3 Sticks of celery, diced
- 200 grams Mushrooms, diced
- 3 Cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp Bacon fat (save it from your fry up, or swap it for 1 tbsp vegetable oil and 1 tbsp butter)
- 250 ml Red wine
- 300 ml Beef stock (chicken stock works too)
- 1 Sprig of thyme
For the Pastry (if you're not using shop bought)
- 250 grams Plain flour, sifted
- 130 grams Cold butter, cubed
- Milk (to bind)
- 1 Egg, beaten
For the filling:
Preheat your oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6
Rub half of the bacon fat over the oxtail and place it on a roasting tray, and put it in the oven for 20-25 minutes until it's browned all over the outside. If you want to be super thorough, turn it over and give it another 10 minutes for the bottom to brown too.
Once it's done, remove it and put to one side. Turn the oven down to 165°C/Gas Mark 3.
While the oxtail is busy in the oven, heat the rest of the fat in a heavy bottomed casserole pan and add the garlic and the vegetables and thyme. Cook until they just start to brown. Add the red wine and scrub any stick bits off the bottom of the pan.
Take off the heat, add the oxtail, and the stock - it should just cover the contents.
Pop on a lid and put the whole dish into the oven and leave for at least 5 hours.
Half way through the cooking time, remove the lid. This will let the liquid evaporate a little bit. You can do this on the hob, or ignore this if you're wanting to turn it into stew.
Whilst the oxtail cooks, you've plenty of time to make the pastry and get it chilled.
Once the cooking time is up, let it cool and remove the bones.
For the pastry:
Sieve the flour into a bowl.
Add the butter and either use a processor to pulse the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, or use your fingers to rub it into the flour, again until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add the milk, a tablespoon full at a time until it comes together. You want to add as little as possible - too much liquid will make a tough pastry.
When it all comes together, roll it into a ball, wrap it in waxed paper or clingfilm and let it sit in the fridge until you need it (it needs a minimum of 30 minutes chill time in the fridge).
To make the pie:
Now we have both parts to our pie ready to pull together.
Roll out your pastry. This should be enough to fill a 23cm tin (I used a square one because corners means more pastry for dunking).
Line the bottom of the tin and, if you prefer (like I do) blind bake the base to prevent a soggy bottom. To do this: once your base is lined with pastry prick it all over and, put it back in the fridge for 5-10 minutes and in the meantime preheat your oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. Remove the pastry from the fridge and brush it with the beaten egg. Pop it into the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until it browns. Check it half way through and if it's bubbling on the base, prick it again before putting it back in.
I would at this point like to say that my pastry always shrinks, so if yours fails, you're in good company.
Once it's baked, put the filling in.
Then top it with more pastry, make a couple of holes for steam to escape and brush the lid with more of the beaten egg.
Put it in the oven for 45 minutes on 190°C/Gas Mark 5, until the centre is cooked through.