Matching food and wine: braised oxtail and a Malbec from Argentina

Matching food and wine: braised oxtail and a Malbec from Argentina

Christmas time, a time of peace, quiet reflection and many calories. The Wine Rambler's Christmas was no different, just add a few more extra calories from lovely wine to the mix. And because combining the food and wine was such a joy, I am going to share some of it with you now. It all started with a sea bass in salt crust with a dry Muscadet, which was a pleasantly light way to kick off the festive food and wine season. After that I felt the need to be more robust and moved on to braised oxtail:

The most important ingredient for this, apart from a few large pieces of oxtail, of course, is red wine, ideally a strong red with robust flavours. I could have opened one of the Bordeaux in my collection or perhaps the last bottle of the intense German blend Ex flammis orior, but I felt a longing for Argentina and so I opened my last bottle of Tapiz 2005 Malbec Reserva, a powerful yet smooth red with a little woodland cool. Other ingredients are: herbs, smoked bacon, onions, mushrooms and parsnips:

The recipe is not that difficult and you cannot actually break anything, so it seems ideal for those who do not that often venture into cooking. First season the oxtail with pepper and salt and lightly cover it with flour. Place a casserole or oven-proof pot on medium heat, add some vegetable oil and then colour the oxtail on all sides (this should only need a couple of minutes each side) until golden brown.

Remove the oxtail from the pan, add a little butter and then some peeled baby onions or shallots, about four per piece of oxtail, and a few thinly sliced rashers of bacon; brown those for a few minutes and remove them too. Add yet a little more butter and then about 100g of mushrooms per piece of oxtail (or a little less), sliced lengthways. Season the mushrooms and when they are evenly coloured all over, return the onions and bacon. After a few minutes add thyme sprigs and a little bit of flour; cook for a couple of minutes more. Then return the oxtail and add enough wine and chicken stock to almost cover the oxtail. Bring to a simmer and put into the oven at 170° C - it will need about two hours, until the meat comes off the bone easily.

About 25 minutes before the meat is ready, peel and wash the parsnips and cut into batons of about 5cm. Place a pan on medium heat, add butter and the parsnips with a few more sprigs of thyme and season a little. Move around the pan for some 10 minutes until golden brown. Then add some chicken stock; reduce it slowly, which will glaze the parsnips.

To serve, put a piece of oxtail on a plate (or two if like me you are often insanely hungry) and cover it with the sauce, including the bacon and mushrooms. Then add the parsnips, which brings a nice freshness to the dish.

The recipe, btw, is from Tom Aikens, who uses salsify instead of the parsnips and also adds marrowbone. I left those out, partly because Christmas food shopping was excessive enough; but I kept some of the Malbec to enjoy with the food. Which brings me to three of the basic rules of matching wine and food:

  • Match wine with the sauce, not necessarily with the type of meat
  • Don't use rubbish wine for making a sauce
  • The wine that went into the sauce will also be a good wine to drink with the food.

Submitted by Julian Sunday, 27/12/2009

Good to see the oxtail back in fashion, and made good use of. Quite apart from the fact that this looks darned tasty, I always find that eating cuts of meat other than those few usually on the butcher's counter has a certain carnivore dignity, a kind of Chief Seattle-like respect for the animal that you devour.

Submitted by Sabine Sunday, 27/12/2009

In reply to by Julian

Equally important: respect Flora. Those bald thyme sprigs on the plate surely indicate that kind of Chief Seattle ecological responsibility?

Submitted by torsten Monday, 28/12/2009

In reply to by Sabine

Now I feel almost bad for not using the parsnip peel. I need to watch 'Dances with wolves' again for my eco-conscience... Or drink more organic wine!

Submitted by torsten Monday, 28/12/2009

In reply to by Julian

I could not agree more. Waitrose, the upmarket supermarket chain, have actually transformed that into a marketing concept as their butchers now offer 'forgotten cuts'. Leaving marketing aside, the oxtail was not only tasty but also really good value - highly recommended and easy to portion/handle.

Submitted by Sabine Monday, 28/12/2009

In reply to by torsten

We have to look out for that kind of forgotten cuts sections where we buy food here. Braised meat with root vegetables is an easy winner with us.