Sunday, 26 September 2010

Slow braised oxtail with crispy pancetta and green herb gnocchi

All hail the slow cooker, bringer of autumnal unctuousness

I adore this blessed 1970's bit of kitchen equipment, it makes it easy to produce hearty classics and interesting slow cooked dishes without having to sit by the stove for hours on end - anyone with a full time job and / or a liking for tasty food should have one.

I had a dish similar to this in a wonderful restaurant in Ibiza on the first holiday Mathew and I went on together. We'd rented a beautiful secluded villa and spent lots of time seeking out great restaurants in between sunning ourselves by our private infinity pool on our hillside retreat (a bit flash but worth the indulgence!)

I remember the oriental fusion restaurant and bar Bambuddah Grove, with fab (and rather OTT) glam interior, tasty food and potent cocktails. A brilliant restaurant in the middle of nowhere that served a delicious herb crusted rack of lamb worthy of any top fine dining restaurant. And a Sicilian outdoor restaurant run by husband and wife, seafood so fresh and good that you didn't mind the circa 60 minutes it took for your food to arrive. Ibiza might be the party island and have its gaudy side, but we found it to be a great foodie haven too.

I can't remember where the restaurant was that I tried the oxtail or what it was called, but I do remember we ate on a lovely outside terrace, surrounded by lit swimming pools with grapevines and climbing floral shrubs suspended overhead.

The oxtail fell of the bone tender as butter, just the way it should be after gentle and long cooking. Its sauce was almost black - thick and treacle like, intense with bold red wine and classic herbs. It was a highlight of the holiday and unlike anything else Ive had since.

The big and beefy sauce of course needs something to soak it up. Cue the gnocchi - recently Ive discovered a plain flour milled from various grains other than wheat, it behaves like wheat (I tried it in a bechamel and couldn't tell the difference) and creates light and fluffy little dumplings. I like to pack them full of fresh green herbs as they really complement and counter the unctuous oxtail and its sauce.

Be prepared for a post eating snooze - a dish best for a lazy Sunday perhaps.

Dinner for two:
For the braised oxtail
One oxtail cut into 2" rounds
3/4 a bottle of red wine
Two carrots worth of batons
Two celery sticks, cut into batons
Two golden onions, peeled and quartered
2 fat cloves of garlic, pressed to crush
3 bay leaves
2 large sprigs of rosemary
5 cloves
1 level tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Plain flour (wheat free plain if you need)
Oil for frying
Unsalted butter
Sea salt and black pepper
4 pancetta rashers

For the gnocchi
This recipe uses wheat free flour so is slightly different as wheat free flour needs more moisture, if you don't want to use wheat free flour, simply use plain flour and don't add the 1 whole egg or extra virgin olive oil. 
This recipe also makes enough gnocchi for 4-6 people, I like to make as many as I can get out of the mixture, flour the ones I don''t need and freeze them, they can be used from frozen.
500g waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed
200g plain gluten and wheat free flour (I use Doves Farm flour that you can get in the Free From section in Sainsbury's)
10g fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
5g fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
5g fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
Several pinches ground nutmeg
One egg yolk and one whole egg, whisked
A generous glug of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

- In a large frying pan add a generous knob of butter and some frying oil, and once the butter starts to foam on a medium to high heat, fry your carrots, onions and celery (do in a few batches rather than crowding the pan as the veg will steam) until turning golden brown
- When you're a couple of minutes off the vegetables being browned, add the garlic to the pan and coat with the oil, once you can smell the garlic start to cook its time to remove the vegetables and place them in your slow cooker
- Wash out the pan and get it back on the same heat, add some more butter and oil to the pan
- While you're waiting for the butter to start to foam lightly dust the oxtail in some plain flour that has a good amount of salt and pepper in it
- Add the oxtail to the pan and turn over until every side is lightly golden brown, this should take around 10 minutes, once its done add them to the slow cooker with the bay leaves
- Carefully stir the meat and vegetables together so they are mixed together properly, then add the red wine, red wine vinegar, sugar and a scrunch of sea salt and black pepper. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on a low setting for 6 hours
- In the meantime you can get your gnocchi ready - preheat your oven to 200 degrees
- Boil the potatoes until they are ready to mash, drain them and lay them on a baking sheet and pop them into the preheated oven for 5 minutes (this is to remove excess water)
- Rice the potatoes into a large mixing bowl and set aside
- Using a sharp knife chop the fresh herbs up as finely as you can get them
- Measure out your flour and add the salt, pepper and nutmeg to the mix and stir to combine
- Add the flour to the potatoes and the herbs on top of that, followed by the whisked eggs and olive oil
- Using a wooden spoon stir the mixture so everything is combined and the herbs are running through the whole of the mixture, then using your hands bring the stiff dough together into a large ball
- Bring the ball onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead it for 2 minutes (don't do it for longer than this as the potato will turn unpleasant and elasticcy)
- Break a handful of the dough off and roll it into a sausage, keep rolling until you have a long sausage that's about 1.5cm thick
- Using a sharp knife again cut the sausage into the rectangular dumplings and set aside on a floured chopping board (making sure they don't touch each other) repeat the process until all of the gnocchi mixture has been used up
- Lightly cover the gnocchis with cling film and set aside until they're needed later on
- When the oxtail has had 6 hours strain the slow cooker mixture through a sieve - catching all of the cooking juices in a pan, do this carefully as you don't want all the meat to fall from the bones or the carrots to collapse
- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees
- Turn the pan on to a low-medium heat and let the sauce sit there reducing gently
- Mix up a couple of tablespoons plain flour with a little stock to form a smooth paste and pour into the reducing sauce, stirring until mixed thoroughly
- Take the oxtail and carrots out of the colander and set them aside in a bowl, cover with tin foil. Discard everything else
- When the sauce has reduced by a third, carefully add the oxtail and carrots back to the pan, put the lid on and cook on the lowest heat your hob provides, just to keep the contents warm
- Lay the pancetta out on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 12 minutes
- While they're cooking boil a deep pan of water and add a generous amount of salt
- A couple of minutes before the pancetta is ready, turn off the oxtail and place the gnocchi into the boiling water, then remove the pancetta when they're just turning brown on their edges and set them aside to really crisp up
- When the gnocchis have all popped to the top of the water and started dancing around they're ready (takes around 1-2 minutes) drain them in a colander, then season with salt and pepper
- Plate the gnocchis with the oxtail and spoon the dark treacle like liquor over the dumplings and meat (gnocchi has the tendency to stick together so the sauce is needed to keep them separated)
- Add your crispy pancetta to the top and devour - a nice glass of red goes delightfully as you would imagine, perfect chance to finish off the bottle the dish was made with!


  1. Yum, yum... you are welcome to come over and cook this anytime soon!

    I have never tackled oxtail. Such an unfortunate name for a cut of meat. x

  2. It's an ugly cut but the meat is delicious, so rich and buttery, and its very cheap too which is good.

    When we come to meet Baby Bell and see you guys next I'll bring a batch for you x