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Beef Braised in Soya Sauce


2 ox tail per hungry person (try to buy approx the same size oxtail, the little ones will distintegrate into the stew before the large ones are ready) or
1 whole short rib per hungry person (short rib to be cut in half by butcher if possible)

2 bay leaves
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick or cassia bark
(1-2 whole dried chilli optional)
(2-3 peppercorns optional)

4-6 carrots (in sticks)
4-6 onions (peeled and quartered)
4-6 sticks celery (optional, roughly chopped, 5cm lengths)

1 cup light soy
1 cup dark soy
Thick sweet soy (optional)
Sugar/honey to taste
Water / Sherry / Marsala / chinese wine / stock (optional)

Neutral oil (eg vegetable, groundnut) or lard (not olive oil)

The aim is to create a soya salt, sweet, savoury broth to braise the beef and you can balance out the various sweet ingredients depending on what you have.

Decide on if you want to braise on the hob or in the oven.

Oven tends to be a little longer, but potentially you check it less often. Technically the beef may end up more tender but my Mum has cooked this on the hob her whole life and I’ve not really noted any memorable difference. If I’m in for the evening or afternoon, then I will probably use the oven. Like all stews, this tastes richer the day after.

Choose a pot / casserole that will comfortably contain the ingredients.

Coat the pot in a film of oil and bring it to just below smoking (the oil will start to shimmer) and then brown the meat. This creates the meaty browning flavours that are the base savoury notes of the stew. You might want to do the meat in two batches. Put the meat to one side.

If the beef has not released enough oil, add some more and then fry the chopped onions until soft and slightly golden. Some people roughly chop the onion, but I’ve found in quarters is fine and quicker. Add the carrots and if you are using them the celery, half way through cooking the onion. You can put them in all at once, but I’ve found it slightly easier to stagger them. The celery adds a delicate vegetable flavour, that I like, but you can leave it out for an equally robust stew. You might need slightly more liquid, and a touch more sweet balance the less vegetables that you use. My Mum would probably use 8 to 10 onions, a few carrots and no celery.

When the vegetables are soft – about 5 to 10 minutes – add back the beef and herbs. I’ve also added garlic, but now generally don’t.

Here is where you mix your braise juice in. The more vegetabes and beef you’ve used, probably the less sugar in the mix. If you’ve used at least 3 short ribs or 6 ox tail, I probably wouldn’t bother with a stock cube or stock. I’ll give two versions, mine and my Mum’s and then you can adjust to what suits you.

Mine: a cup of rice wine or marsala (if you use marsals or sweet sherry, you need less sugar/honey), which I simmer off a little – I like the depth it adds (I think Nigella uses stout or beer and cider is also poss). Then I add a cup of light soy, a cup of dark soy, and a few shakes of thick sweet soy (probably 1/3 a cup) and a few good shakes of worcester sauce (probably 1/4 cup). I taste and add some sugar or honey to taste, probably around one table spoon. I then add water so that it just covers the beef and vegetables. I then simmer for around 3 hours on the hob or the oven, with it gentle enough to have only a few bubbles emerge. I might check it once or twice to make sure the beef is submerged and check its tenderness. Cooks talk about fork tine tenderness, when you slip a fork in the beef and it slips in easily. FTaer it has cooked. I then leave it on the hob, where it will be good for 3 or 4 days, and better after 24 hours. I reheat gently. If I want a thicker sauce, I’ll remove the beef in order to boil it down. My other half prefers the stew be thinner. Ox tail will tend to be slightly more gelatinous. If overnight, there is a lot of fat on the surface then you can skim it off before re-heating it the next day.

Mum’s: No marsala. Enough soy, both dark and light to cover the beef. Good shakes of worcester sauce. Two tablespoons sugar (lack of marsala needs more, but more onions makes it sweeter). She won’t add water, so it will be thicker and she will have the chilli. She won’t use celery. The peppercorns, chilli, bay and cloves will all be in a tea strainer, so she can fish it out at the end of cooking. She always uses the hob.

Serve with rice. Either basmati or thai fragrant for first choice. Potatoes also possible, mash or boiled. You can add peas when reheating or in the last 5 – 10 minutes for a blast of colour. Or, I sometimes add lenghts of spring onions. Watercress or steamed pak choy are also good sides.

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