Rich, unctuous and meaty, sweetened with the sugar of roots and redcurrant jelly this is my favourite stew. Navigating my way round the large jigsaw puzzle bones to search out those tender gluey mouthfuls the person sitting next to me is left unanswered as I obsess silently over my plate. Heavy and hearty there is no point in attempting to do much more after consuming oxtail, other than ordering more pints of bitter in the local pub. Probably best eaten on Sundays.
When selecting the oxtail form the butcher, choose the really thick parts, not the bits no bigger than the base of a whippet's tail.
In a bag, throw in 2 level tbsp plain flour, and 1 heaped tsp of mustard powder. Throw in the oxtails and twist the bag closed, trapping a little air. Shake the bag around. On looking inside, they should be well coated in flour. Remove them.
Choose a casserole big enough to fit all the oxtail and the vegetables that will eventually join them but not so large that, on pouring in the wine, the level has to be bumped up with water to cover the oxtails. Heat two generous tbsp dripping, and get it hot with the first traces of smoke just discernible. Brown the oxtails all over. Do this thoroughly which might be easier done in two batches If at the end of the browning stage, there are obvious burned bits in the pan, I would suggest you wipe them out with some paper towel, taking care not to burn yourself.
Return the oxtails to the pot with the raw shallots, peeled and finely chopped, the thyme, bay, cloves and a good grating of nutmeg. Pour the wine about: it should just cover the oxtail. On the heat, bring everything up to a gentle simmer. If any scum drifts to the top, remove this now. Put the lid on, and at 180 cook the oxtail for 1.5 hours. When this time is up, remove it from the oven. You will notice that a lot of fat has come out of the oxtail and risen to the top. This needs to be removed, and you have two choices. If skimming it when hot, tilt the casserole at an angle and ladle out the fat; alternatively, if you let the pot sit on the windowsill, as soon as the stew has cooled, the fat will become opaque and stiff and can easily be scraped off. The longer this dish takes to sit at any point, the tastier it gets. I'm never in a hurry eating oxtail. I might make it over two days.
When skimmed of the fat turn the oxtails over before poking in the swede, parsnips and carrots that you have peeled and chopped into 3cm batons. Plop in the redcurrant jelly and tomato puree. Return the lid, and cook for a further 1.5 hours in the same temperature oven.
Remove the casserole, tilt it and skim out more fat, which will almost certainly have come to the top. Remove one piece of the oxtail, and targeting a meaty area, pull at it with a fork. The meat should come away very easily. It is ready. If not it must be returned to the oven as it sometimes will require a little longer. You must test it.
Take to the table, scattered all about with a good handful of chopped parsley. Because of all the roots within, I tend to eat the dish as is, with no extra vegetables, although mash is always a welcome guest.