Slow cooked meat stews have always been our favorites. They can be used with pasta, rice, potatoes or simply with freshly baked bread. For us the first encounter with these a Southern European dishes came in Greek years ago. There were two parts in a small beachside village: one for tourists with not-so-fancy-but-expensive-restaurants and one for locals. Of course we headed to a local restaurant with plastic table cloths and cheap chairs. What they served there was slow cooked beef stifado, Greek beef stew with fist size beef cubes, shallots and tomato in the sauce. The stew must have been cooking for the whole day because the meat was so tender. And they served it with fresh and crunchy country style bread!
Spanish oxtail stew was the next one that we tasted. And we have made it several times at home with the traditional Spanish oxtail stew recipe. Then a Finnish blogger Sivumaku published Italian ragú recipe which to became one of our favorites, too. In all these three recipes the basic structure is the same: cheap cuts of beef and/or pork, red wine and a lot of time in mild temperature. What if we combined the best parts from all of these?
We ordered an oxtail from a local butcher shop along with some Ibérian pig cheeks. We have done pig cheeks in white wine before, but since they need a lot of low-and-slow cooking not to be chewy, we reckoned they would fit nicely into our special stew. Our stew turned out to be excellent, but it requires 8 hours of cooking. And it’s worth it. Make a largest batch you possibly can, because you can freeze it and reheat it and it only gets better! And since only cheap ingredients are used, one serving costs only about 1-2 €, 2-3 USD.
Ingredients for Oxtail Stifado Ragú for 10 Servings
- 1 whole oxtail – rabo de toro
- 1 kg (2 lbs.) of pork cheeks or other cheap cuts of pork – carilleras de cerdo
- 2 big onions – cebolla grande
- 10 shallots or french onions – chalotas o cebolla francesa
- 6 big tomatoes – tomates
- 1 bottle of cheap red wine – vino tinto
- 7 dl (3 cups) of beef stock – caldo de vacuno
- A bunch of fresh thyme – tomillo
- 10 bay leaves – hojas de laurel
- Sea salt – sal marina
- 20 whole black peppers – pimienta negra
- 2 chilies – pimiento picante
- A splash of olive oil – aceite de oliva
Trim excess fat from the oxtail knobs. Remove the membranes from both sides of the pork cheeks. Splash some olive oil on large cast iron pot and put it on high heat on a stove. Brown the meats from all sides in batches. When done, add some olive oil, if needed, and add diced onions. Lower the heat and let the onion get soft. Add shallots when the onion cubes are about ready.
Preheat the oven to 120 ºC (250 ºF).
Stack the meats on top of the onions and then add beef stock and red wine and raise the heat to high so the stew begins to boil. Remove the skins from the tomatoes. You can do it traditional way of boiling them for a few seconds or, like we like to do, just use a sharp knife, slice the tomatoes into 4 pieces and carefully remove the skin with the knife. Add the tomatoes, sprigs of thyme, bay leaves, a pinch of salt and the peppers and chilies. Don’t over season with salt, because the sauce reduces during cooking. When the stew begins to boil, cover with lid and place in the oven.
Check the level of liquid once an hour and add water, beef stock or red wine, if needed. The meats should be covered with liquid during the whole time. Stir the stew, too. After 8 hours the bones from the oxtail should be clean and the meat fully separated. Check the seasoning and add salt, if needed. Let it cool a bit and serve with pasta, rice or simply with fresh bread.