Late winter / early spring in Helsinki is not the greatest time of the year. After months of pristine winter weather, long brisk walks on the ice-covered sea become treacherous affairs. Snow turns into a dirty, shoe-ruining slush and everybody seems to come down with a cold.
Hearty stews are a great antidote and survival strategy. My favorite oxtail stew recipe is from Claudia Roden’s “The Good Food of Italy” (its Swedish translation, “Det Italienska K?ket från Piemonte till Sicilien”, has been a favorite since I found it on sale in a department store in Stockholm years ago). My nearly hundred cookbooks have been in storage in Finland for almost three years, so finally being able to unpack them feels very special.
Even the bored-looking butcher at my local supermarket waxed poetic when I requested two kilos (4.5 lb) of oxtails – it seems that few of his customers bother to prepare meals that require four hours of slow stewing. Actually, I have been pretty busy working and socializing, so I did the initial stewing two days ago and finished up tonight. Two kilos of meat and bones sounds like a lot, but there are very few leftovers after Antti stopped for dinner ;)
2 kg oxtails cut at joints
500 g sliced celery stalks
1 tbsp thyme
2 bay leaves
125 g bacon
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp marjoram
2-3 tbsp yellow raisins
2 tbsp pine nuts
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the oxtails, put them in a big kettle (a 5 litre kettle is ideal), cover with water, bring to boil and stew for 10 minutes. Rinse the oxtails, refill the kettle with fresh water, bring to boil again, add the carrot, leek, celery, thyme and bay leaves, and stew for 3 hours.
In a large saucepan, fry the bacon, onion and garlic; add marjoram and the stewed oxtails. Stew for another hour, until meat starts to fall away from the bones. Sprinkle with golden raisins, stew for another 10 minutes, and serve hot, topped with pine nuts.
Antti continues: While Anna’s stew was super delicious, I want to share my different approach with oxtails. I skip the veggies and bacon, but add heaps of onions. My broth is also always tomato-based, i.e. I add a can or two of crushed tomatoes, and then top it up with water until the tails are covered. A splash of wine, and the juices and the zest of a lemon to give zing. The acidity from the tomatoes help balance the otherwise heavy and meaty taste of the beef.
Either way, you won’t be disappointed =) If allowed by your company, add some decadence by grabbing the bones with your bare hands and suck the fall-of-the-bone tender meat straight off. Finger-licking-goodness guaranteed!