An unsung hero from the herb clan that any braise or casserole worth its salt would be lost without. Yet rarely does this leaf receive a sliver of the attention it deserves – while pantries across the globe hoard them in packets and jars. Seldom appearing in the weekly shop, yet always managing to be on hand – the bay leaf, our culinary Winter herb.
It is not uncommon for stock of milk, butter or Milo to exhaust in this household, but bay leaves are forever in ready supply. Other than the fact that two are only ever required for a dish, my mother is the keeper of a bay tree and visits regularly. (We are therefore secure in the knowledge that should we fall on difficult economic times, we shall never be without them). She recently delivered a branch, which has been stripped of its foliage, which now sits drying in an open jar. It is quite lovely to reach in and pluck out a few to pop into the stew du jour.
The law of bay leaf use however, is that prior to ‘plating up’ they must be removed from the dish, as the nature of their flavour enhancing role is of background chorus rather than centre stage. Unfortunately busy cooks will forget laws. So in response to this, under this roof new dinner table lore has evolved – and is evidenced by the exclamation, “Look, I got the lucky bay leaf!”
For your next ‘stew du jour’ this Moroccan-style Oxtail braise will ensure two of your lucky leaves will be put to good use.
3kg oxtail pieces trimmed of fat
plain flour for dredging
1 tbsp ground ginger
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
800g can crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
zest of 1/2 an orange
2 cups beef stock
Mix together the flour and ginger and coat the oxtail pieces. Dust off excess.
Heat oil in large heavy based pan and add meat in small batches to brown all over. Transfer to slow cooker.
Add onions, garlic, celery, cinnamon and cloves and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add tomatoes, bay leaves, orange zest and stock. Cook for another couple of minutes.
Pour this mixture over the ox tail and cook on low for up to 6 hours or until meat is tender.
(This can also be done in a casserole dish in the oven. Simply add 1 1/2 cups of red wine with the stock and cook at 160 degrees celsius for 2 hours or until meat is tender and falling off the bone.)
Postscript: This post is dedicated to Z and her new slow cooker.