Paul Flynn: An oxtail dish that’s as light as a feather
Plus: pasta for when you think you’re tired of pasta and a smoked haddock supper
Oxtail, star anise, carrots, lettuce and sesame. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
I’ve finally realised that I suffer from tsundoku (google it). I was a voracious reader, but my powers of concentration are shot these days. The phone has ruined me. I can only absorb information in short bursts, never allowing relaxation to replace the fretting. I chastise everyone else in the family for their phone usage, but I’m just as bad.
Pictures help. I’ve taken solace in beautiful gardening books. We have quite a few. Perfectly snipped foliage and verdant lawns keep me distracted for a while, but the glow of admiration is replaced by envy as I stare out the window.
My cookbooks give me the most comfort, especially the ones with beautiful writing. The best books give me an understanding of the cook’s wishes and the origins of the dishes. I’m left wistful, longing to travel to the place of their birth.
I came across some lovely oxtail recently and couldn’t leave it behind. It’s not something many people are used to cooking these days, but I urge to try it. Your butcher will get it for you, after all, every cow has a tail.
But it’s early summer, so I needed to make it lighter. It longs to be with mash and a deep gravy, but I experimented with star anise, cardamom and sesame. It’s a more involved recipe than usual for me, but it’s a technique worth having. By the way, you can use beef shin for this if you can’t get oxtail. Leave it in big chunks and cook it for 3½ to four hours.
Smoked haddock and egg are best friends. This is the simplest of dishes, but they are often the best. The key is to cook the eggs until they are just set, keeping a runny yolk. This becomes your sauce, helped along with a little cream.
We’ve been living off pasta in our house. This was one of many dinners we made, quickly and cheaply. I had all the ingredients handy, but the dill was an eccentric addition. I worried about it slightly, but the lime, dill and Parmesan worked surprisingly well.
OXTAIL, STAR ANISE, LETTUCE AND SESAME
2kg oxtail, cut into pieces.
Flour to coat
Salt and pepper
100ml sunflower oil
A knob of butter
3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 head of fennel, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, cut in half
1 heaped tbsp redcurrant jelly
750ml chicken stock
3 star anise
2 sprigs of rosemary
Juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp golden brown sugar
6 cardamom pods, crushed
Little Gem salad
2 Little Gem lettuce, separated, washed and dried
200g natural yoghurt
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Fresh coriander, small bunch, leaves picked
1 Preheat your oven to 140 degrees.
2 Add salt and pepper to the flour then coat the oxtail with this, and pat off the excess.
3 Heat half the oil until it is gently smoking, then add the oxtail to the pan.
4 Sear the meat over a medium heat until golden brown, then remove from the pan.
5 Carefully throw away the hot oil and put the pan back on the heat with the remaining oil, butter, vegetables, garlic and rosemary.
6 Sweat the mixture over a medium heat until it is soft, this will take about 15 minutes.
7 Add the oxtail to the vegetables, then add the stock, star anise and redcurrant jelly.
8 Bring to a simmer, cover and put in the oven for four to five hours, until the meat is falling off the bone.
9 When it is ready, lift out the oxtail, strain the liquid through a sieve into a pot and push any juice from the vegetables through with the back of a ladle.
10 Reduce the cooking liquor by half, by simmering it, carefully skimming any fat from the surface all the while.
11 When the sauce reaches coating consistency, put the oxtail back into the sauce.
To make the pickled carrots:
1 Peel the carrots, then continue to peel ribbons, down to the base of the carrot.
2 Bring the orange juice, vinegar, sugar and cardamom to the boil and add the carrot strips. Remove the pot from the heat immediately and allow to cool. They are ready to use once cool.
1 Heat the oxtail in its juice then divide on to shallow bowls.
2 Mix the yoghurt with the sesame oil then coat the lettuce leaves in the yoghurt, like a Caesar salad, and place on top of the oxtail, followed by the carrots, sesame seeds and coriander. Serve with plain basmati rice.
SMOKED HADDOCK, CODDLED EGG, NEW POTATOES AND SPRING ONION
4 x 125g portions of smoked haddock, bones removed
A sprig of thyme or bay
10 new potatoes, cooked, peeled and lightly crushed
6 free range eggs
4 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
1 tsp red or white wine vinegar
1 tbsp raisins, soaked in boiling water
Salt and pepper
A little rapeseed or olive oil
1 Cook the eggs in boiling water for precisely six minutes, then run under cold water to cool.
2 Peel the eggs and crush them into the potatoes with the back of a fork.
3 Drain the raisins and add them into the mix along with the spring onions, vinegar, cream, salt and pepper. Season and reserve.
4 Bring the milk and herb to a simmer in a pan.
5 Add the smoked haddock, cover and cook gently for six minutes or so, depending on the thickness of the fish.
6 Spoon the egg and potato salad on to warm plates, drain the haddock and serve it on top. Add a drizzle of oil for a lustrous sheen.
LITTLE EARS WITH PEAS, LIME AND PARMESAN
1 x 500g packet of conchiglie pasta
1 x 450g packet petit pois, defrosted
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
150ml vegetable stock
Juice and zest of 1 lime
100g grated Parmesan
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
2 Cook the pasta in the water at a rolling boil, according to packet instructions.
3 When the pasta is still slightly firm, add the peas and the sliced onion, then bring back to the boil and cook for one more minute.
4 Drain the pasta and put back into the pot then add the cream, stock, lime, Parmesan and dill.
5 Season and serve.