Wednesday, November 23, 2011

eurasian oxtail stew (kristang oxtail stew)

The rains have come earlier this year, not that I’m complaining. I love rainy days and find great comfort in the sound of raindrops pelting my windows. Maybe it’s because having the sun’s scorching rays bearing down on your back, putting even more freckles on your face and bleaching the very life out of your hair, most of the year, makes you grateful for the mitigating coolness of the rain. To me, cool, wet weather means one thing – stews, of which this is my favourite. It's so good, I'm happy to give the oxtail chunks a miss, in deference to my meat-loving dinosaur children, and just dunk my bread chunks into the richly savoury and sticky gravy.

Veering off the subject a little, you might be wondering what “kristang” is. It literally means “Christian” in the creole form of Portuguese spoken by the Portuguese descended Eurasians in Singapore and Malaysia, which is half of what I am. My mum is a Portuguese descended Eurasian and my father is a British descended Eurasian. Most Kristangs are Catholic, hence the spiritual slant of the term.

While two kilograms of oxtail may seem a bit much,  I never cook any less as it takes more than 3 hours from start to finish, to get a bowl of this heavenly, rich and sticky stew on the table, unless you use a pressure cooker.  I can’t imagine investing over three hours for just a small pot of stew, can you?

My grandmother thought pressure cookers were the devil’s device, and I can’t blame her as I was the one who caused the contents of my mother’s pressure cooker to spew out like a steaming geyser, in an arc, across our 18-foot high kitchen ceiling, when I was a curious 7-year old. Mum richly expanded my Portuguese vocabulary that day; on hindsight, I think my handiwork would have made Jackson Pollock proud. Ahh…. the memories!  This is how my fiercely Kristang grandmother made it, and how I still make it today.

eurasian oxtail stew

prep 45 mins          cook 2 1/2  hrs          serves 6

2 sticks cinnamon
1/2 a nutmeg kernel
12 cloves
3 large onions, peeled and sliced
2 kg oxtail, in sections, trimmed of fat
1 tsp white pepper
2.4 L (12 cups) chicken or beef stock (grandma used water)
3 potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 stalk spring onions (scallions/daun bawang) cut into 3 cm lengths
1 stalk Chinese celery (daun seledri/daun sup) cut into 3 cm lengths

Heat 5 tablespoons vegetable oil and fry the cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and cloves  until fragrant. Add the onions and cook until brown.

Add the oxtail sections and brown on all sides. Sprinkle over the pepper and stir for another 2 – 3 minutes.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered for about 2 hours or until oxtail is quite tender.

While stew is simmering, scoop up and discard the  froth, oil and scum that rise  to the top. If level of liquid falls and oxtail is not submerged, top up with hot water.

Add the potatoes and carrots and continue to simmer until tender. Add salt to taste, stir well and simmer a final 2 or 3 minutes. Turn off heat.

Dish out and garnish with the spring onion and celery. Serve immediately with rice and sambal belacan or chunks of baguette (French loaf).

click here for printable recipe


  1. Hey girlfriend, nice blog! Memang shiok makan! :)

    I have not eaten "real" oxtail soup in a long, long time. As far as I can remember, the last time I had it was the canned Campbell's oxtail soup. I have not seen it here in the US. Your soup looks so hearty and delicious! It would be so warm and comforting for the cold winters here.

    Those old pressure cookers can be pretty scary. Good thing I never had to witness their vented "fury".

  2. Biren - oxtail stew is quite a cekik darah dish to cook, but sooooooo worth the effort, isn't it? Hantam sama sambal belacan, lagi shiok! What can I say, Campbells just doesn't compare! You know, I still don't have a pressure cooker, to this very day hahaha!

  3. Of course canned soup can never compare to homemade. It is more of a convenience. I have not made sambal belacan for a long, long time. Can't toast belacan in the house as the smell will stay for days. One year I decided to toast it on the deck. One of my neighbors said it smelled like an old dog...ROFL!! I don't know what an old dog smells like but obviously this man is an expert cause he lives with one...HAHAHA! I actually have more belacan stories to share with you another time :D

  4. I make an oxtail soup that has almost all of the same ingredients! Love oxtail. I can see where you are going with this new site, and I like it a lot. An homage to one's past and working through one's culture and the influences of all others upon that within our home kitchens is not an easy quest. I have enjoyed browsing here, Denise. Great stuff, and clearly more to come.

  5. Biren:

    Don't go the Campbell's way! It is nothing like the real thing.
    I make oxtail soup like my British Grandmother and nothing is better! I will try Denise's though :~D.

    Mine is made with a beef and tomato base.
    If you decide to make it, go to the butcher and ask for a complete oxtail. They will section it for you if you ask.

    I you would also like mine you can contact me at
    I do encourage you to try Denise's and maybe mine.
    I love comparing recipes, to see which I like the best, and to maybe improve on mine, or to incorporate both.

    Denise, I hope you don't mind me mentioning my recipe. I do not wish to detract from yours, it sounds so wonderful, and the spices you add are so enticing. If I have offended you, please tell me and I won't do it again. I don't know all the rules.

    Have a Joyful Day :~D


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