The jolt of a hot curry after several weeks of root vegetables and brassicas this winter was a welcome change for me, my family and my friends. I don’t usually suffer palate fatigue but, after all the winter richness, a curry was exactly what I needed.
I enjoy cooking curry, especially one using my favourite braising cut – oxtail. Oxtail is a gelatinous cut of meat with lovely texture when cooked slowly for several hours. To me it is the perfect winter cut of beef, excellent for all kinds of braised dishes and particularly good when used to make a broth. The slow cooking process can be sped up with the use of a pressure cooker, though I enjoy the sound and smell of a pot simmering away for hours. Oxtail broth is a great restorative that has been eaten the world over.
In this curry the addition of peanuts to the pounded curry paste thickens the oxtail broth and creates a viscous consistency. What I like about the recipe is that the ingredients are readily available year round and are relatively easy to find in Asian grocers. The list may seem onerous, but the diversity of flavours meld together beautifully to create something quite sophisticated. The texture of the oxtail and the gelatinous quality it brings to the curry works a treat on a cold night in.
It is the unique balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot that attracts me to Thai food. My favourite Thai food fix is found at Spice I Am in Sydney’s Surry Hills. Their no-holds-barred approach and authenticity of flavour and punch-in-the-face heat is unique and sometimes extreme, even to me. I always discover something new there, whether it be a technique, a combination of ingredients, or something regional. I like sitting on the pavement and feeling like I’m in a very different place.
The following recipe has been adapted from Thai Food by David Thompson, the chef and owner of Nahm in Bangkok.
I like to eat this dish with lightly pickled cucumbers and, although not traditional, roti bread to mop up the juices.
– 1 tsp cumin seeds
– 1 tsp white peppercorns
– 10 large dried red chillies, deseeded and soaked in water until soft
– 3 coriander roots, finely chopped
– 2 tbsp chopped galangal
– 2 tbsp chopped lemongrass, about 1 stalk
– 6 medium-sized red shallots, chopped
– 6 cloves garlic, chopped
– 4 tbsp skinned, raw peanuts, boiled for 20 minutes
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the cumin seeds and peppercorns followed by all the ingredients except the peanuts. When the paste is smooth, add the peanuts and pound again. If this becomes tedious, transfer the paste to a food processor and blend until smooth.
– 2 kg oxtail cut into pieces, ask your butcher to do this. (You could substitute a cut of braising beef such as shin or brisket.)
– 2 x 400ml tins of coconut milk
– 3 tbsp oil
– 1 x 400ml tin coconut cream
– 4 tbsp palm sugar
– 5 tbsp fish sauce
– juice of 1 lime
– 8 kaffir lime leaves, torn
– ½ bunch Thai basil leaves, picked
– 2 long red or green chillies, deseeded and thinly sliced
Place the oxtail in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring it to a boil then simmer gently for one hour, skimming off any scum or fat that comes to the surface. Strain, reserving the cooking water, which should have a mild beef stock flavour.
Add three tablespoons of oil to a saucepan and fry the curry paste until it becomes aromatic. Add the oxtail, coconut milk and enough of the cooking water to just cover the oxtail.
Bring to a simmer and cook gently for two hours. If necessary, top up with water from time to time. After two hours of cooking, test a piece of oxtail. The meat should be giving and fall easily from the bone when prodded. When the meat is cooked, add the coconut cream, palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and lime leaves.
Simmer for a few minutes and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Stir through the basil leaves and sliced chillies just before serving.
Quick pickle cucumbers
– 3 Lebanese cucumbers
– 1½ tbsp rice vinegar
– 1½ tsp white sugar
– 2 pinches each of sugar and salt
To make the dressing, stir together the vinegar and sugar.
Slice each cucumber lengthwise into eight wedges.
Season the cucumber wedges with a pinch of sugar and salt. Leave the cucumbers to “cure” for 10 minutes. Pat them dry, then toss them in the vinegar and sugar dressing just before serving.
2013 La Violetta Das Sakrileg riesling, Porongurup, WA ($40)
– Liam O’Brien, sommelier, Cutler & Co
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 26, 2014 as "Winter’s bone". Subscribe here.