- 19 Nov 2013 -

Rich Oxtail Stew with Port

Serves 8-10 people

4-5 lbs (around 2 kg) oxtail (cut into chunks of 2 inches in width)
2-3 medium/large sized carrots cut in chunks
2 medium/large onions, quartered
3 medium sized potatoes cut into large pieces
1 bottle 25 fl oz (750 ml) of cooking Port
4-5 fat garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
4-5 slices of ginger, thinly sliced and finely minced
5 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1½ tbsp. cane sugar
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
1 tbsp. dark soy sauce for color
1 can of 6oz (170g) tomato paste
2 cans of 14oz (400g) plum tomatoes
2 cans of 15oz (425g) tomato sauce
16 fl oz (473 ml) beef stock (use Bovril or Knorr and mix with potato water for ease unless you have your own home-made beef stock)
2 small bay leaves

In a large mixing bowl, marinate the oxtail with cane sugar, ½ tsp. of salt, pepper, garlic, ginger and Worcestershire sauce. Use a fork to poke some holes in the oxtail pieces so it can soak up the goodness in the marinade. Let it sit for 45 minutes, the acid in the Worcester sauce will tenderize the meat.

Sauté the onions, carrots and potatoes in a frying pan in that order if your pan is not large enough to accommodate all the veggies. Each time, finish frying the type of veggie and set aside on a plate. Do not overcook the onions, they are ready if they are semi transparent and brown in the edges. Transfer the veggies to a big stock or soup pot.

In a good size saucepan, bring the beef stock, tomato paste, plum tomatoes and tomato sauce to a boil then bring the heat down to a gentle simmer. Transfer the stock mixture to the stockpot.

In the same frying pan you used for the veggies, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil and sear the oxtail on both sides until they are a nutty brown color. Pour in the rest of the oxtail marinade so it all comes to a good boil. Add a dash of port to deglaze. Transfer the oxtail to the stockpot.

Add the bay leaves and pour in around half the bottle of port in the stockpot. Bring the mixture to a boil then turn down to simmer in gentle heat. The bay leaves will give the dish a homey aroma and provide some layers of flavors to the taste profile.
Let the whole thing slow cook with the lid semi closed, adding the remainder of the port from time to time. If you see some of the fat from the oxtail has bubbled up to the top, spoon it off using a spatula across the surface. The port will start to evaporate which has the effect of enhancing the flavor of the dish and give it the rich earthy essence of a stew.   
You need to cook this for 6 hours if you want to achieve the picture perfect “fall off the bones” tender meat texture in a thick gravy. Remember to check on the dish…gentle heat is key, stirring the mixture from time to time.
Remove the pot from the heat, give it a good stir, and add salt and pepper to taste. Add water if the consistency is too thick. If you think the mixture is too acidic for your liking, feel free to add the brown sugar, this is not a “must”. Serve immediately, I recommend some garlic mashed potatoes and lightly cooked green veggies!
Alternative Western Food
This oxtail recipe is unlike any stew or casserole dish you have made before. The answer lies in the Chinese ingredients used in this Western dish. It’s a true blend of East meets West.
Western food had found its way to China since 1786. Initially it can only be sampled in the homes of expats, soon enough these restaurants can be found in the nation’s commercial centers. Aside from providing a convenient spot for Westerners to enjoy food from home, it also served as a gathering place for senior Chinese public officials and businessmen to socialize with their Western counterparts. These establishments were mostly opened by foreigners and Chinese entrepreneurs (typically chefs having worked in Western households) who had their own interpretation of Western dishes using Chinese ingredients and Western cooking methods.

It is no surprise that Shanghai being the “Pearl of the Orient”, and Guangzhou dominated the Western restaurant scene in the golden era of the nation’s prosperous history. Deda Beef was the first Western restaurant in Shanghai, Victoria was the favorite amongst the Brits; and there was Washington! The Red House in L’Avenue Joffre in the old French Concession started in 1935 was an icon for the longest time. The most famous restaurant of its type was Taiping Guan founded by the Xu family in Guangzhou in 1860, the same period when the 2nd opium war broke between France, Great Britain and China. It is in this restaurant where Zhou En Lai, the first premier of China, who at the time was the Director of the Political Department in the prestigious Whampoa Military Academy (China’s West Point), had his wedding banquet and requested roast pigeon and oxtail soup to be featured in the wedding menu.
The evergreen staples in the menu of these restaurants are Russian Borsch, French onion soup, roast pigeon, braised oxtail, smoked pomfret, German pork knuckle, Portuguese chicken rice and Grand Marnier soufflés. These dishes can still be sampled in the Red House West Restaurant in Shanghai (845 Huaihai Zhong Lu), Taiping Guan, Queens Café and Boston Restaurant in Hong Kong. These places all have something in common - the waiters have all worked there forever; they still wear the quintessential suit and bowtie; some places still offer silver service and things are done old school – think Crepe Suzette or Baked Alaska flambéed at your table! And there are some quirky trade secrets. You will be struck by the rich aroma of the Russian Borsch, the trick was adding condensed milk to achieve that consistency. The meats are noticeably more succulent and flavorful; this is the result of adding dark soy sauce and Worcester sauce to the meat marinade. There is so much more I can share but it’s not as fun until you’ve sampled the dishes! And don’t forget to check out the black and white photos on the walls and strike up a dialogue with the waiters, who will gladly take you on a trip down memory lane.

; The Seventh Son