Tag Archives: oxtail

Favourite Cook Books no.4: ‘Great British Classics’ by Gary Rhodes

I have been meaning to write a post on this excellent cookbook for quite a while, and it is such a shame that my prompt to pull my finger out was the sad and untimely death of Gary Rhodes at the end of last year.

When I was asked to submit my list of favourite cookbooks to the 1000 Cookbooks project, I put New British Classics as my number one choice, my comment at the time being: “simply the best book on British food around. Everything from lowly haslet to lobster.”

Favourite recipes include salad cream, lardy cake, prawn cocktail, rhubarb and rack-on-black – lamb roasted with black pudding.

My favourite books on food tend to be by food writers rather than professional chefs because they write about their love of food and its importance in our culture and history. Chefs tend to be, well, cheffy; there’s no evocative description of the hustle and bustle of a French market, and they assume that you want to be cooking restaurant-level food at home. This is where Rhodes was different – sure there are cheffy dishes like the very complex rich pigeon faggot – but there are basics such as fried bread, porridge and jam roly-poly. Everything is represented and everything has equal billing, meaning that whatever your ability level there is a way in. You can start off with basics like scrambled eggs or go straight in at the deep end with pigs’ trotters Bourguignonne.

The full gamut of British food is here: fish and chips, steak and kidney pie, pork faggots, white pudding, Welsh rarebit, and the massive range of techniques contained within makes it the most comprehensive book of British recipes there is. What’s more, every single recipe works perfectly; he goes through every stage, assuming you know nothing but never patronises. If you don’t own a copy and you’re interested in cooking British food, it really is essential.

The secret to his success was his attention to detail. Every move made, and technique used was meticulous and done with deftness, even the way he picked up an ingredient to show to camera had an air of precision about it. Take a look at this clip from the accompanying BBC programme, where he shows us how to make cabbage and bacon soup, and you’ll see what I mean:

He was a classically trained chef who applied French techniques to classic British dishes, taking them to new heights while keeping them authentic. His approach definitely rubbed off on me when I was teaching myself to cook; use the best ingredients and don’t cut corners, every stage is there for a reason, so you need to understand why it is there. Only when that penny drops will you develop a cook’s intuition. This approach to cooking won him his first Michelin star at the age of 26, eventually receiving an OBE for services to the hospitality industry in 2006.

On television, he was very enthusiastic, polite and well-spoken; he seemed a little odd and socially awkward (as all the best people are), making him all the more endearing. He got me interested in cooking and wanting to spend my precious leisure time in the kitchen, learning new techniques and tackling novel ingredients.

He was rarely off the telly during the late 1900s and early 2000s, his trademark spiky hair and over-enthusiasm caused many to pooh-pooh him as gimmicky. Eventually the fickle eye of entertainment focused upon other, younger chefs and so he stopped appearing so regularly. But his books and their accompanying TV shows are great; his Rhodes Around Britain and Cookery Year series are worth checking out too (his apple pie recipe from the latter is the best in world in my opinion).

He died on the 26 November 2019 at the age of 59 from head injuries after a fall – no way or age to go, I’m sure you’ll agree. Of course, when someone dies, there work is revaluated and I hope people recognise what he did for British cuisine, because he put it on a pedestal when everyone else was looking elsewhere.

Braised Oxtails

He was ‘discovered’ on the Keith Floyd programme Floyd on Britain & Ireland. On the segment he makes his signature dish: braised oxtails. Ironically, by the time New British Classics was published his most famous dish was illegal to eat – cooking beef on the bone was banned because of health fears surrounding the BSE crisis. Eventually the ban was lifted, and I could make it for myself. Back in my pop-up restaurant days it was the main course at my first ever Odd Bits offal evening.

This is my version of Gary’s signature dish; it’s slightly simplified but just as gutsy. It really is one of the most delicious things you will ever cook. Nothing else needs to be said – except ‘cook it’!

Enough for 6

2 oxtails, trimmed of excess fat

Salt and pepper

Beef dripping

Around 100 g each carrot, onion, celery and leek

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 tbs tomato purée

Small bunch thyme and rosemary

2 bay leaves

1 clove garlic, crushed

300ml red wine

1 litre beef stock

Season the oxtails and fry in dripping until well browned, transfer to an ovenproof pot, then fry the vegetables until nicely brown too. Tip those into the pot along with the tomatoes, garlic and herbs and bring to a simmer. Pour the wine into the original pan and reduce until almost dry. Add to the pot with the stock.

Simmer very gently on the hob or braise in an oven set to 160⁰C. Whichever you choose, it needs to tick away for 3 hours.

Remove the cooked meat and keep warm and pass the cooking liquor through a conical strainer, really pressing the vegetables hard to get all the flavour out.

Throw in a big handful of ice cubes, and stir so they freeze the fat; you should be able to lift out ice and fat in one nice big satisfying lump.

Reduce the liquor to a sauce and season with more salt and pepper, then add back the oxtails to heat through.

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Filed under Books, Britain, cooking, food, General, Meat, Recipes

Tail to Nose Eating: Oxtail Soup

‘Nose to tail’ eating is en vogue these days and thank goodness it is. The stigma that offal and cheap cuts of meat are of poor quality has been around since at least the Victorian era. The anglophile French chef Alexis Soyer despaired that so much good food was going to waste; he couldn’t understand why we turned our noses up at it whilst countries like France ate the whole animal without worrying about such things. This was all compounded further during the rationing people faced, where there was no choice but to eat cheaper cuts and offal.

Alexis Soyer

Now that times are tough these cuts are appearing in our butchers’ shops once more; hopefully it is also because of the good work of today’s chefs and food writers promoting and cooking with these ingredients and showing us all that good food does not mean expensive food. When our counry’s finances turn around, I do hope that offal doesn’t get dropped for the expensive cuts again. It is so important that we treat our animals with respect by eating the whole thing, after all it helps the environment by reducing waste, and whilst we are doing this, we are opening ourselves to whole other gastronomic world previously veiled by sirloins and silversides. It can only be a good thing.

I have always been an offal fan and I can honestly say whether liver, kidney, sweetbread or brain, I have never eaten a bit of animal that I have not liked. All those odd bits, wobbly bits and squidgy bits have such an amazing range of textures and flavours and I thought I would add my favourite recipes to the blog. I am going to start this a little backwards with oxtail soup – I suppose I am championing tail to nose eating…

Oxtail Soup

My favourite soup of all time. A few years ago this was actually quite an expensive dish to make – offal was unpopular, inflating the price. These days you can pick one up for about £4 from your high-street butcher. This soup is full of rich beefy flavour that is heightened by the inclusion of a bottle of stout – the darkest you can find, Guinness works well though I like to use Marston’s Oyster Stout. The most important ingredient here is time – to make a good soup with large tender pieces of meat you need the soup to be barely simmering for at least 2 hours. A full simmer often leads to tough meat that loses too much of its flavour to the surrounding stock.

The recipe itself only seems to appear in the latter half of the eighteenth century and apparently came from France. I can’t believe this recipe is so recent, I imagined that we’d been eating a version of it for a millennium. If anyone can find an earlier reference, please let me know.

beef dripping or lard

2 oxtails, cut into 2-3 inch pieces and trimmed of very large pieces of fat

2 onions, finely chopped

2 leeks, finely sliced

3 carrots, peeled and diced

3 sticks of celery, diced

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

4 healthy sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

300 ml stout

1.5 litres (2 ½ pints) beef stock

salt and black pepper

1 tbs Worcestershire sauce

1 tbs mushroom ketchup (optional)

4 tbs finely chopped parsley

Heat a small amount of dripping or lard in a heavy-based stockpot or large cast-iron casserole on a high heat – the highest you dare go – add the pieces of oxtail and brown thoroughly on all sides – this should release their fat, quickening the whole process. Don’t overcrowd the pan; cook in batches if need be. Remove the oxtail and set aside before browning the onion, leek, carrot and garlic. Add the thyme and bay leaves then the stout, making sure you get all the burnt bits scraped off that will have built up from all that hard-frying.

Add the stock and browned oxtail and bring to a simmer. The soup needs to quietly tick over for at least two hours, three if you can.

Strain the soup into another pan and remove the pieces of oxtail, picking out the meat which should come away easily from the bone. Cut into small pieces of you do so wish. Return the meat to the rich stock. If you want you can throw away the vegetables, but I prefer to pop them back into the pot too. We need our roughage now, don’t we? It’s best to let the soup cool so that you can skim off any unwanted fat – plus a little waiting time helps the flavours to develop.

Reheat and season well with salt and pepper, add the Worcestershire sauce and mushroom ketchup if using. Taste and add more if you like. Finally stir through the parsley and serve hot with buttered toast and a glass of stout.

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Filed under Britain, cooking, food, Meat, Recipes, Soups