Oxtail soup recipe for the rainy days

October marks the start of the rainy season, a season to spent more time at home. We are greeted with rain this weekend and I can't think of a better dish to celebrate the wet and gloom days. Rich, lush, intense, with layers of concentrated, deep dark, velvety flavour. When grilled bread is the muse, Slurping and dipping warm crusty bread into a bowl of good, hearty, hot oxtail soup. 

I love slow cooking, where you can spent the whole day at home with a bottle of wine and book, pouring and stirring magic to the pot, tasting along the way as the soup develops with time, from a cheery light orange to more intense to a deep dark red. The vegetables and meat melting together into one thick soup nourishing the soul at the end of the day. 

The great thing about this oxtail soup recipe is that it gets put together very quickly and the simplicity of cooking in one pot, versatile enough to either slow simmer over the stove or chucking it into the oven while woolgathering. It doesn't matter how the vegetables are chopped. Lazily and roughly, however you like it. The result will be rather impressive.

There are many version of cooking oxtail soup. From the light Asian variations to the time-honoured rich English staples. I hadn't had an oxtail soup for ages and I don't remember ever cooking one before. On my recent Bali trip, I had an awesome Balinese version at Biku Bali - Sop Buntut. This soothing clear broth with vegetable medley is aromatic and bountiful. Satisfying for the cool summery night. However on such wet lazy day, I crave for a thicker version of oxtail soup. Almost a meal on its own. Warming tomatoey Autumn flavours ladened with each big spoonful. 

- Serves 6 as main

1 kg oxtail
5 tbsp plain flour
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3 large carrots, roughly chopped
1 medium white radish, roughly chopped
4 celery stalk, roughly diced
10 large tomatoes, skinned and seed removed, roughly diced (see cooking tips)
1 whole garlic, crushed with pester and mortar
2 large onions, diced
4 slice bacon, diced
3 bay leaves
a few sprigs thyme or parsley
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp tomato purée
300 mL red wine, shiraz
A splash of cognac or brandy
100 g (handful) pearl barley
1 litre of water
1 litre beef stock
2 tbsp butter

In a pot, boil the barley with water. In a shallow bowl, mix the flour with salt and pepper. Heat half the oil in a large, heavy based pan until hot. Coat lightly the oxtail pieces with the seasoned flour and fry for 3-4 minutes on each side until evenly browned, then remove form pan.

With the same pan, sautéed the bacon until slightly golden adding the onions and garlic mince. I like to add in sugar and a little soy sauce to give a deep caramelised flavour to the vegetables. Cook onions till translucent and slightly browned at the edge. Add the remaining vegetables and cook for 4-5 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften, adding a little more oil if necessary. Stir in the tomato purée and cook for another minute or two.

Pour in the red wine and cognac, deglaze by scraping the base of the pan. Boil for a few minutes. Strain off barley and reserve the liquid. Return the oxtail to the pan and pour in the stock and barley liquid to cover.
Bring to simmer and skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Partially cover the pan and cook gently for 3-4 hours until the oxtail is very tender and comes off the bone easily. With a pair of kitchen tongs, carefully move the oxtail pieces to a large bowl. Leave the pan to to cool slightly.

Strain the cooking stock through a fine sieve into a clean pan, pushing down on the vegetables with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the oxtail pieces to the pan and bring to simmer for another 10mins reducing the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the soup. Stir in butter to give it a lustre.
The best way to serve this is by ladling big spoonfuls into bowls, accompanied by a some red wine and fresh warmed bread. Sprinkle over some thyme or parsley, as soon as it hits the hot soup it will release an amazing fragrance.

This oxtail soup recipe is best made a day or two in advance. Making ahead helps the flavours to develop.

-Till next post, ss.

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