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
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