Oxtail Cassoulet

As the evenings get darker and a kind of semi-hibernation in the warmth of the house begins, there is something particularly pleasurable about food that has been cooked long and slowly, filling the rooms with a comforting aroma.

Oxtail is not a traditional ingredient for a cassoulet but its rich flavour is absorbed beautifully by the beans and I find it one of the best winter treats. Serve with carrots, and a simple green salad if you like.

Ingredients

  • 350 g/12 oz dried cannellini or haricot beans
  • 3 large onions
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 900 g-1 kg/2-2¼ lb oxtail
  • 450 ml/¾ pint dry cider
  • coarsely grated rind and juice of 1 orange
  • 100 g/4 oz pitted prunes
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1 rounded teaspoon juniper berries
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 400 g/14 oz tin chopped tomatoes
  • salt
  • black pepper

Method

Soak the beans in plenty of cold water for several hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9. Peel and slice the onions. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a fairly high heat, then add the oxtail and cook, turning, just until browned all over. Remove from the pan with a slotted spatula and transfer to a large casserole dish. Add the onions to the pan and fry, stirring around often, until soft and browned. Put the onions in the casserole with the cider, orange rind and juice. Cut the pitted prunes in half. Slice the pepper in half lengthways, remove the seeds and stem and slice across thinly. Add the prunes, pepper, bay leaves and juniper berries to the ingredients in the casserole and stir to mix. Season with salt and black pepper. Cover the casserole and cook on the centre shelf of the oven for about 20 minutes, until the liquid is just bubbling. Then turn the oven temperature down to 140°C/275°F/gas mark 1 and cook for 1½ hours.

Meanwhile, drain the beans, put them in a large pan of unsalted water and boil for 40-60 minutes, until just soft but not yet breaking up. Peel the garlic and slice the cloves across thinly. After the oxtail has been cooking for 1½ hours, add the beans, sliced garlic and tinned tomatoes. Cover again and put back in the oven for another 2½-3 hours, until the meat is falling from the bones. Before serving, taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

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