This winter season I haven’t been recipe testing or writing much – but I have been cooking, especially for get-togethers and holidays. There’s something comforting about cooking without recipes – I enjoy the muscle memory of green bean casserole, baked ziti, pies, and other well-worn favorites. After a busy winter season I’m settling into February, usually a slower month for me, and taking time to enjoy slow winter pleasures like root veg gratins, slow cooker chilis, and beef stew.
Growing up, beef and carrot stew or pot roast was a Sunday staple. My dad might nurse a roast or the slow cooker all day. Ever since, beef stew has always reminded me of lazy winter afternoons summed up with warm, hearty dinners.
Recently, I received an advance copy of Andrea Nguyen’s new book, Vietnamese Food Any Day, (thanks for the free book, Ten Speed Press!) which features a recipe for “Beef Stew with Star Anise and Lemongrass.” This recipe isn’t quite that, but both are a great twist on a wintry beef stew. The book has some great Viet recipes for everyday cooking from slow weekend projects to quick weeknight dinners – and everything so far has been delicious. Feeling in the mood for stew, I took inspiration from her beef stew and a similar recipe in Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles and cooked up this satisfying dish from our freezer and pantry stores of oxtail, frozen greens, black-eyed peas, summer-canned tomatoes, and winter CSA carrots (shout out to Good Dog Farm!). This mainly veggie stew gets a rich boost from the deep oxtail flavor – a real treat for a cold day! Serves 4.
- 1 cup black-eyed peas
- 4 pieces oxtail (2#)
- 2 tsp Chinese five spice
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 4 garlic cloves
- 3 tbsp ginger
- 1 yellow onion
- 16 oz diced or pureed tomatoes
- 3 lemongrass stalks
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 pound carrots
- 1/2 pound frozen greens or 1-2 bunches fresh kale, collards, or mustard greens
- 2 birds-eye chilis or 1 jalapeno (if you like heat)
- splash white wine or dry cider
- salt, oil, lime juice or rice wine vinegar
- Trim off the oxtail fat (reserve for stock, frying, or another use). Mix together the Chinese five-spice, brown sugar, and fish sauce. Rub the mixture all over the meat and set aside for about 20-30 minutes.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water, add the beans and turn heat to a simmer until cooked.
- Prep the vegetables while you wait: Dice the onion and carrots. Peel and mince the ginger and garlic. Wash and chop fresh greens or defrost frozen greens.
- After resting in the marinade, heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a large dutch oven or pot. Remove the meat from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and brown the oxtail on all sides.
- Remove the beef from the pot briefly. Saute the carrots and onion over medium heat until the onions are just clear, then add the ginger, garlic, and greens, stirring for about one minute. Deglaze with a large splash of wine or cider.
- Add tomatoes and any remaining beef marinade. Stir and add the oxtail. Cover with water and stir all again to thoroughly mix. Bring to a simmer.
- Bruise the lemongrass (use the handle of your knife or whack it with the side of the blade) and add – I like to add in removable spice bags so I don’t have to fish out lemongrass pieces while I’m eating. Add star anise to the bags as well. Add these spices and beans (when cooked) and stir in.
- Simmer, uncovered, three hours, until beef is tender and falling away from the bone. You may need to top up occasionally with water to keep the oxtail covered.
- Taste for salt – adding salt, lime juice for acid, or fish sauce as needed.
- Remove oxtail. Serve bowls full of stew and place oxtail on top, garnished with sliced chili. Serve with spoons and napkins – oxtail is finger food!