Every so often, Chris will put in a dinner request: “I saw a Jamaican oxtail stew on Levi Roots a couple of weeks ago” he tells me, “can you make it tonight?” It sounds like a gentle question but is in fact a firm requisition. I’ve tried resisting once before and the look on his little face pulled so hard on the heart strings that I’m now conditioned to comply. Thankfully he was able to remember a few scant details, so a bit of light Googling and a recipe was formed. I marched off purposefully to pick up 1 kg oxtail pieces from a local butcher who describes his shop as, “Irish and Caribbean” – he is Irish, many of his customers Caribbean; it makes sense I suppose.
I rolled the chunks in seasoned flour then browned them on all sides, in batches (so as not to crowd the pan), and set aside. I then softened some diced onion, carrot and celery before adding back the oxtail plus 3 cloves crushed garlic; 1.5 tablespoons thyme leaves; 2 scotch bonnet chillies; 2 tablespoons allspice; 4 large tomatoes, chopped; 2 bay leaves; 1 teaspoon of sugar; 1 litre of beef stock and a can of Guinness. I let this bubble gently for 3 hours before adding 2 cans of beans (I used kidney and pinto) for another 30-45 minutes.
The rich oxtail flaked into melty mouthfuls while the marrow from the bones and high fat content gave the stew a wonderful gelatinous quality. There were still some bits of meat clinging to bone too, which satisfied the need to pick up and gnaw. The gravy was fragrant with allspice and tingling with scotch bonnet heat. I was happy with the Guinness addition too, which is a nod to the Guinness punch served in some Caribbean places; I’ve still yet to try it but have fallen rather in love with the idea. In this stew, it gives an extra depth with bite.
The stew was devoured in a frenzy of slurping, chewing and murmuring, punctuated by the odd ‘ker-ping!’ as discarded pieces of bone were slung into an empty bowl. I’m pretty sure this means I delivered the goods. It’s going into the repertoire for future tweaking and handily, fits into the frugal category, which is the name of the game in this house right now. In my hunt for bargain ingredients, I’ve been exploring the depths of Peckham Rye to an even greater extent than before and finding all sorts of weird and wonderful treats hiding away. Watch this space.