Here is a midwinter cook-up of deep fragrance and lingering heat, a trade-wind stew that emerged in Jamaica and made its way north. It is oxtail stew, brown and steaming, light with ginger and thyme, pungent with allspice and soy, a taste of the Caribbean to warm winter’s heart. You could make and eat it today while reading Derek Walcott poems as the afternoon vagues into indigo — or allow it to cure into greater magnificence overnight, and stretch out its gravy for the course of a week.
- 3 pounds oxtails, cut into segments by a butcher
- Kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 Spanish onions, peeled and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1 Scotch bonnet pepper, whole
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 12 allspice berries
- 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
- 1 cup butter beans, or a 10 1/2-ounce can butter beans, rinsed and drained
- Season oxtails aggressively with salt and pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven or a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add brown sugar to pot and melt, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it darkens and starts to smoke — about six minutes. When sugar is nearly black, add 2 tablespoons boiling water. (It will splatter.) Stir to mix.
- Add the oxtails to the pot, working in batches, stirring each time to cover them with blackened sugar, then allowing them to cook, turning occasionally, until they are well browned. Remove oxtails to a bowl and keep warm.
- Add half of the onions, garlic and ginger to the pot, along with the pepper, the thyme, the allspice and a third of the scallions, and stir to combine. Allow to cook until softened, approximately 5 minutes.
- Return the oxtails to the pot along with any accumulated juices and put water into the pot so that the oxtails are almost submerged. Bring to a simmer and then cook, covered, approximately 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
- Add remaining onions, garlic and ginger to the pot, along with another third of the scallions. Add sugar, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine and continue to cook until the meat is yielding and loose on the bone, approximately one hour longer. Remove approximately one cup of liquid from pot and place in a small bowl. Add flour to this liquid and stir to combine, working out any lumps with the back of a spoon. Add this slurry to the pot along with ketchup, then stir to combine and allow to cook a further 15 minutes or so. Remove Scotch bonnet pepper and thyme stems. Fold butter beans into the stew and allow these to heat through. Scatter remaining scallions over the top. Serve with white rice or rice and peas.