A sudden need for a dinner seasoned with tradition and nostalgia. I pick up lumps of oxtail from the butcher’s, a jumble of bones with deep maroon meat marbled with cream-coloured fat. I cook them with sweet roots and ribs of celery, letting the heat of the oven do the work. There is red wine and beef stock, tufts of thyme and twigs of bay and I serve it in the casserole in which it is cooked, with a mash of swedes and a flat, crisp cake of potatoes.
Olive oil 3 tbsp
Onions 3, medium
Plain flour 3 heaped tbsp
Red wine 350ml, light and fruity
Beef stock 1 litre
Smoked garlic a whole head
Bay leaves 4
Thyme 6 bushy sprigs
Potatoes 1kg, Maris Piper or similar
Olive oil 250ml
Rosemary 4 large sprigs
Warm the olive oil in a very large, deep casserole over a moderate heat. Add the pieces of oxtail and let them sizzle in the hot oil, turning them as each side darkens to a rich golden brown.
While the oxtail is browning, peel and roughly chop the onions and carrots, and cut the celery into short pieces. Remove the oxtail from the pan to a plate then tip the onions, carrots and celery into the pan, toss them in the oil and general stickiness left by the oxtail, then leave them to cook for 5 minutes. Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, stir and continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes until the flour is no longer white, then pour in the wine and bring to a fierce but brief bubble. Slice the head of garlic in half horizontally. Pour in the stock and bring back to the boil then season with a little salt, the garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Return the oxtail to the pan.
Lower the heat so the liquid bubbles slowly, cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 2 hours. Lift the lid, check the oxtail’s progress. If the meat still clings tightly to the bones, cover and continue cooking for a further 30 minutes or until the meat is soft and can easily be pulled from the bone. Lift the garlic out and remove the soft cloves from their skins, crush them with a fork and return them to the sauce. Check the seasoning and correct with black pepper and, if necessary, more salt.
Mashed swede and potatoes with rosemary and olive oil
Peel the swede then cut into small pieces. Pile into a steamer basket and leave to steam over a pan of boiling water, covered with a lid, until soft. Check for tenderness from 15 minutes.
Put the swede into a bowl or empty pan, add the butter in pieces and crush roughly with a potato masher or fork. Keep warm and covered.
Potatoes with rosemary and olive oil
Should the oxtail be ready before the potatoes, remove it from the oven (it will come to no harm, with its lid in place) and turn the heat up to 220C/gas mark 8, until the potatoes are the requisite golden brown.
You will need a 25cm ovenproof frying pan that doesn’t stick. Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Scrub the potatoes (I don’t think you should feel the need to peel them) and slice very thinly. Pour the olive oil into a mixing bowl. Finely chop half of the rosemary, leaving the rest on their stems and add to the bowl. Grind in a little black pepper then add the potatoes and gently turn them over in the seasoned oil. Cover the base of the pan with a single layer of slices, each overlapping the other and adding a little salt as you go. Place a second layer on top, then another and so on, until all the potatoes are used up. Pour any remaining oil over the top.
Bake the potatoes in the preheated oven for 1 hour or until the top layer is golden and lightly crisp at the edges.