If you love beef — if you love it truly — you will know that the best bits are not those fancy, expensive cuts of fillet or rib-eye. Keep them for amateurs and kids or oligarchs who want to impress each other in restaurants.
Things become a bit more toothsome when a bone is involved, preferably T-shaped, but it’s the slow-cooked cuts where it gets really interesting — brisket, feather blade, shin. These hard-working muscles demand a bit of effort but reward it in richness and flavour. Among these cuts, oxtail is king — and now is the time to cook it.
It is, of course, available all year round but it’s only now, when the wind is icy and we get home soaked, that we really want to cook it.
Turkey season begins with Thanksgiving in late November, peaks on Christmas Day and ends abruptly with the last turkey sandwich/curry/pie/shawarma (try it!). It has nothing to do with the lifecycle of these birds — they’re in season because we’ve decided they are for cultural reasons.
Likewise, the months of January and February are peak oxtail season for us. It’s in the bones, you see. The oxtail pieces want nothing more than a long, hot bath so the strands of meat can become meltingly soft and the bones can turn the cooking liquid into a rich, slick and filling broth, which is the best tonic we’ve come across to take the sting out of these biting months.
Here, Espelette salt and roasted bell peppers bring a touch of extra warmth to the broth and thin strands of pasta complete it. Boiled winter greens will go nicely on the side. Or a bowl of sharply dressed salad — even though, strictly speaking, it’s not quite salad season yet.
Oxtail with red pepper and vermicelli
Season the oxtail pieces with the chilli salt and rest for at least an hour and up to 24 hours.
Heat your oven to 200C (fan assist). Place the pieces of oxtail in one layer in a deep roasting tray and roast for 15 minutes. Remove, flip and roast for another 10 minutes, or until the pieces are really dark golden all over.
While the oxtail is roasting, roughly dice the peppers and onions and slice the garlic and the chilli. Once the meat has roasted, add all the vegetables, mix well to coat the pieces with any juices that have formed in the tin and return to the oven to roast for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, boil a kettle.
Remove from the oven. Add the bay leaves, sprinkle the paprika and pour over 800ml of boiling water. Cover and return to the oven for one hour. Remove, baste carefully and flip the oxtail pieces in the liquid that has formed. Re-cover and reduce the oven heat to 180C. Return the covered tray to the oven and cook for another hour. Remove, flip the pieces again and add the vermicelli to the liquid that has formed. Mix to coat. Add a little extra boiling water if the pasta seems very dry but don’t cover with water, just moisten. Re-cover and return to the oven for the last 15 minutes. Remove, mix and serve.
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