This is not a dish for the newbie cook. If you think that “stew” means just throwing everything into a pan and simmering them together until the oxtail is tender, well, it’s a lot more involved than that.
First, you have to season, flour and brown the sliced oxtail. Browning results in caramelization which adds to the overall flavor of the stew. The flour that coats the oxtail not only prevents the meat from sticking to the pan but also thickens the sauce during stewing.
The oxtail is scooped out and making the base of the sauce begins. Onion, garlic and bay leaves are sauteed while scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen browned bits left from browing the oxtail. Carrot, bell pepper and leeks go in next.
Then comes the wine. Do you have to add wine? Well, you can make a stew without wine but since this is a stew that is traditionally cooked with red wine, I did not omit it because I wanted to capture the essence of Spanish oxtail stew.
What red wine is best? I used Rioja which comes from the northern part of Spain because the bottle was already open, I had tasted it and I knew it was good. You don’t have to use Spanish red wine but you do need to choose a good red wine. And just what is a “good red wine”? Well, if it’s good enough to drink, it’s good enough to cook with.
Wine isn’t the only liquid in this stew. Diced tomatoes and broth go in too. Don’t panic if everything looks too soupy at this point. Remember that oxtail takes hours to cook and the liquid will reduce during the low and slow cooking.
When all the ingredients for the sauce are in the pan, the browned oxtail slices are stirred in. And this is where the stewing begins. The pan is covered tightly, the heat is set to LOW, and everything cooks together until the oxtail is literally falling off the bone. When it reaches that stage, the oxtail stew can be served. But if you want the full Spanish oxtail stew experience, there are a couple of things you can do.
Carefully scoop out the oxtail from the sauce but leave all the vegetables in. Plunge in an immersion blender and puree until the sauce is smooth and thick like gravy. Put the oxtail back in, and add onions and fresh button mushrooms.
Give the stew a final simmer to cook the mushrooms and to allow the thick sauce to coat everything. It’s a magnificent dish, really, and worth all the work and the long wait.
- 1 large onion peeled and chopped
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 cloves
- 2 bell peppers deseeded and diced
- 1 carrot peeled and diced
- ½ cup sliced leeks
- 2 cup red wine
- 2 cups diced tomatoes
- 2 cups beef broth well seasoned
- 300 grams button mushrooms quartered
- 1 large onion peeled and diced
- parsley to garnish
Brown the oxtail
- Rinse the oxtail and dry on a stack of paper towels.
- Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and flour.
- Heat the olive oil in a wide thick-bottomed pan and brown the oxtail on all sides.
- Scoop out the oxtail and move to a plate.
Make the stew base
- In the remaining oil, saute the onion, garlic, bay leaves and cloves. Cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen browned bits, until softened.
- Add the bell peppers, carrot and leeks, and cook, stirring occasionally, for two to three minutes.
- Pour in the wine.
- Add the diced tomatoes and broth.
- Stir and heat until bubbly.
Stew the oxtail
- Add the browned oxtail to the sauce and bring to the boil.
- Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer the oxtail until tender, about four hours. Add more broth, half a cup at a time, if the liquid dries out during cooking.
- The stew can be served when the oxtail is tender. But, if you want to add better texture and extra flavor, do the following.
- Separate the oxtail from the sauce.
- Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce with the vegetables to make a smooth gravy.
- Pour the sauce into a clean pan, add the oxtail, mushrooms and onion, and simmer for fifteen minutes or so until the mushrooms are cooked through.
- Give the stew a taste and add more salt if needed (not likely if you used well seasoned beef broth) before serving.