Brisbane is a subtropical city but right now it feels like Belfast. Our house sits in the winter shadow of huge trees, and it’s a worker’s cottage with typically small windows. Even when the skies are glaring with blue (which they are most winter days here), we turn on the lights in our little house.
We’ve nailed building insulation over the doorless thresholds of our rooms to encourage a little warmth retention. Our oil heater’s doing its quiet best, but it was so cold in the kitchen yesterday we lit the gas stove and left the door open.
Some might find this depressing and cold. I just find it cold, because I feel the possibilities around us. Mathew’s an architect and he really truly does build things. Audrey’s little shed out the back is proof. I know that soon our house will reach up and touch the winter sun, and I will have a kitchen that steps down to meet the vegetable garden, and we will bathe outside under the trees. A magical house in waiting, that’s what I see as I turn on more lights in the middle of the day, and listen to the building insulation rustle with the drafts.
Bone stocks are the perfect antidote to these dark internal days. Emboldened by my beef stock triumphs, I’ve gone specialized. I’ve always wanted to try out oxtail. It’s cheap and meaty and I’ve heard it makes extremely flavourful stock.
Even organic oxtail seems like a bargain, particularly because what you get is not one but two concoctions: first the stock, then oxtail dumplings.
My friend Naomi said they were the best dumplings she’s ever tasted, and I’m thinking she’s right.
But first, the stock, which can be used for all sorts of things: risottos, bean soups, french onion soup, or even just a clear consomme for the oxtail dumplings to plop around in. It’s fragrant and rich without the heavier notes beef stock hits. And it’s ridiculously easy to make, too, if you’ve got chicken stock, a roasting pan and a bit of time laying about.
- 2 organic oxtails, cut into 3cm pieces
- 1 brown onion, peeled of any mould skin, root end cut off, and divided into quarters
- 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 1 large carrot, quartered lengthwise and widthwise
- 100ml of port
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
- 4 large sprigs of thyme
- 3 large sprigs of flat leaf parsley
- 4 litres of chicken stock
Preheat oven to 200C (390F). Place the oxtail, onion, garlic, carrot in a slightly oiled baking tray and roast them until they start to caramelise (ie. get brown crispy bits). You’ll need to turn the oxtail upside down half way through the cooking, which all up will probably take between 30 and 45 minutes. Great excuse to have the oven on (with the door closed).
Once the oxtails are nicely roasted, put them in a large stockpot with the roasted veg, the chicken stock and the herbs and peppercorns. If they aren’t quite covered, add some more water.
Put the stockpot on a medium heat and while it’s coming to the simmer, deglaze the baking pan with the port. To do this, place the pan over a very low heat on the stove, add the port, and as it begins to simmer, slowly scrape up any of the crispy bits stuck to the pan. Pour this all into the pot and wait for a gentle simmer.
For the next 5 hours all you have to do is watch the pot, occasionally, to make sure it’s keeping to a gentle simmer (no more, no less), and skim off any scum that floats to the surface.
After 5 hours, the stock will taste full bodied and fragrant. If you think you can push a bit more flavour into it, keep going, you might be right. Once it’s reached its ‘peak’, turn off the heat.
Carefully remove the fleshy parts of the oxtail and set aside for oxtail dumplings (recipe to come). Pour the rest of the stock through a fine sieve into a large bowl and let the solids drain into the strained stock for 10 minutes or so, to make sure you’ve got all it’s goodies, Best not to press the vegetables and bones to get the last remaining juice- this will just cloud your stock. If you feel like there’s some jellyfied stock hanging on, just pour a little water over the veg and bones to release it into the bowl.
Let the stock cool down completely before refrigerating it. The next day you can peel the fat off the surface and freeze it in portions, or use it within the week. But if you forget to do any of this, just remember to boil it at the end of the week, every week, until you do. I haven’t done this but Michael Ruhlman swears it’s an ok way to behave with stock and I believe him.