Succulent and tender oxtail, slowly braised with lots of onions and red wine, is always a treat.
Cinnamon and star anise give it an extra flavour dimension that cuts the richness a little. This recipe works well with lamb shanks, and shanks or shoulder of veal and venison too, though with these you'll probably want to leave out the chocolate. The stew improves with keeping so, if you can, make it a day or two in advance.
Season the oxtail with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavybased flameproof casserole and fry the meat over a medium-high heat in batches, so as not to overcrowd the pan, until browned on all sides. Remove the browned oxtail with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Reduce the heat to low and gently cook the onions in the casserole for 15–20 minutes, until soft and translucent. Return the meat, raise the heat, then pour in the wine and let it bubble until slightly reduced. Add the cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, peppercorns, orange zest and enough stock just to cover the meat.
Bring to a slow simmer and cook very gently, partially covered, for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more stock as necessary to keep the oxtail moist. When it is ready, the meat should be falling off the bone. (You can also cook it in a low oven at 120°C/Gas Mark ½ with a lid on, if it’s more convenient.)
Drain the meat in a colander set over a bowl, to catch the liquid, then pass the liquid through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Boil until slightly thickened and glossy, then skim off most of the fat. If you’d like to take the meat off the bones, do so once it’s cooled a bit.
Discard the cinnamon, star anise and bay leaves, return the meat to the pan, then stir in the chocolate, if using.
If serving straight away, warm through; otherwise, leave to cool and keep in the fridge for a day or two, then reheat slowly and simmer for a minute or two. Check the seasoning before serving, with creamy mash or noodles and a scattering of chopped parsley if you like.
Extracted from River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, with photography by Simon Wheeler. Published by Bloomsbury priced £25.