Mothered Oxtail Stew with Scotch Bonnet & Pimento
Loved by Nigella + Africana Extra. A treasured recipe for today, for tomorrow & for always!
What is the one dish that brings you back to the happy days of your childhood?
A much loved feast you enjoyed for Sunday roast, your favourite lunch box snack, the magical elixir your mother conjured to make you feel better, or that street food with its irresistible aroma that still calls to you from near or far. That which makes you feel loved and comforted?
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For me, there exist several dishes that hold significant memories, particularly those of my mother and grandmother. Braised Greens with Sweet Peppers makes me feel happy and whole, just as I hoped it did for my ailing grandma, who enjoyed these with boiled green plantains. Slow-cooked Beans is another, which my mother cooked with yams or sturdier ripe plantains that soaked in all that wonderful bean liquor, with smokey palm oil, scotch bonnet and peppers.
While writing Africana, I asked my friend Nicola for a dish that reminded her of her mother’s cooking. She described a beautiful, slow-cooked stew that reminded me of what South Africans and Southern Africans call potjiekos (pronounced poy-kee-kos). A layered pot of lightly spiced slow-cook meat, with vegetables and wine. Traditionally cooked outdoors on a three-legged cauldron known as a potjie. A Dutch and Malay inspired dish cooked in this variation of what is, in-fact, a Dutch oven.
However, similar or inspired, for this recipe we escape to Malawi, where Nicola’s treasured memories of her late mother began. I remember my friend professing her love for hot hot chillies and even hunting down a special brand of chilli sauce from Malawi that is sold in the UK. Enriched with the generosity of her stories and description of this stew, I wrote this recipe with the addition of sweet scotch bonnets for that kick Nicola adores, and pimento, the bewitching dried berries with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove for a feast for all the senses.
This is a dish you mother, while simmering slowly with love, care, time, and one that mothers you in return with its warmth, comforting flavours, textures and abundance.
Time is that special ingredient that makes this recipe so special. Time that fills one’s life with treasured memories, often shared through food. Time spent nurturing one self and others. Precious time spent with one’s mother, with family and friends creating memories that live on, even when our loved ones have passed on. This recipe amongst others is the meat of what Africana is.
Treasured recipes and stories from across a rich continent.
I personally sent a copy of Africana to Nigella, and it was a dream come true when she kindly asked to share this recipe in her cookbook corner. She has always inspired me with her style of storytelling, the joy of feeding oneself, feeding others and her feminine confidence, which I saw in myself. Despite being pushed to cover it up or tone it down, for fear of overwhelming people with the divine feminine. A confidence that comes with abilities that people often claim not to expect. As if a woman is incapable of chopping carrots, stirring a pot, and growing a brand/business, while wearing lipstick. She is always transporting, her recipes prioritising comfort and not trends or fads. She inspires me to write with emotion and to be confidently me! With high praise for Africana, she says;
It is a glorious book: an education and an invitation. There is such life in its pages, and such food! Lerato has a particular gift for getting to the heart of each recipe, both in terms of where it comes from, how it’s travelled, and how it can find a place in your own kitchen, your own life.
Drawn from the whole continent, some traditional, the recipes share one thing — they all make one want to rush greedily into the kitchen…
Spoilt for choice in deciding what to share with you today, I dithered most deliciously, enjoying every moment. And with gratitude and a glad heart, I bring you now her gorgeous Mothered Oxtail Stew.
How kind, thoughtful of her! Now all that is left is for you to cook this recipe and fall in love with it too, while exploring its many variations in order to make this your own.
Serve with greens like my beloved braised greens, and mashed potatoes. But not just any mashed potatoes, my vanilla mashed potatoes from the Africana. I hope you enjoy this recipe, with love simmering slowly in your pot and in your heart.
*Exclusive Recipe from Africana*
Your reviews mean the world to me and they go a long way towards the book’s success. If you enjoy Africana, I would be grateful if you could leave positive words here or in any of these retailers below.
This is where I share much more beyond the book, tucked below in Cook’s Tips, with more ways in which I have cooked this recipe and how you can enjoy this in different variations. In Ghana, I recently and successfully cooked this recipe with lamb when I couldn’t find less boney goat meat, and with red wine vinegar, when I realised I forgot to pick up a bottle from the store. I also answer some of your questions which have come through facebook, instagram, emails and comments, such as…
What can I replace with the red wine, if I can’t have alcohol?
I can’t find oxtail, can I use any other cut of meat?
Can I cook this in my slow cooker or in the oven?
I am worried about the heat of scotch bonnets…?
I am vegetarian, what is an excellent plant-based substitute?
Mothered Oxtail Stew with Scotch Bonnet & Pimento
See my plant-based version in Cook’s Tips
Mothered oxtail stew is pure love in a pot. This recipe is inspired by my friend Nicola’s childhood memories of her mum tending to her stew for hours in Malawi. A mothered dish, it gives back as much love as you show it. This method of cooking is reminiscent of potjiekos (pronounced poy-kee-kos), which is enjoyed across southern Africa, from South Africa to Namibia. Those dishes typically include meat on the bone, vegetables and spices simmered in three-legged, cast-iron cauldrons set atop an open flame. Here the allspice and scotch bonnet create a fragrant and spicy sauce that is satisfying and comforting.
1½ kilograms oxtail cut into small chunks (by your kind butcher)
2 - 3 heaped tablespoons plain flour
60 millilitres rapeseed or vegetable oil
2 red Romano peppers or bell peppers (stemmed, deseeded and sliced)
2 brown onions (peeled and sliced)
4 medium carrots (scrubbed and cut into round chunks)
5 centimetres piece of ginger (peeled and grated)
4 cloves garlic (peeled and crushed)
1 teaspoon ground allspice (pimento)
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons tomato puree
250 millilitres good-quality fruity red wine
2 x 400 grams cans whole plum or chopped tomatoes
6 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
500 millilitres beef stock (plus extra)
1 - 2 Scotch bonnets peppers (yellow if possible), stemmed, pierced and left whole
handful of fresh parsley (chopped)
Let’s get cooking!
Place the oxtail in a large bowl. Pat dry and lightly dust with flour and season with sea salt and black pepper.
Place a large heavy-based flameproof casserole over a medium-high heat. Add enough oil to coat the base and, once hot, fry the oxtail in batches until brown on all sides. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the peppers and onions. Saute for 7–10 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened and starting to take on a little colour. Stir in half of the carrots and all the ginger and garlic. Add the spices, tomato puree and 2 tablespoons of water and cook for 3 minutes.
Put the oxtail pieces back in the pan and stir to coat. Season with 1 teaspoon fine sea salt and ½ teaspoon freshly ground grains of paradise or black pepper, cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.
Pour in the wine to deglaze the pan, then stir in the tomatoes, herbs and the stock. Throw in as many scotch bonnets as your heart desires and increase the heat to medium-high to bring to a strong simmer.
Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 3–4 hours, until the meat is luxuriously tender and the sauce dark, thick and unctuous. Stir occasionally and add a little splash of stock, if needed. Add the remaining carrots and cook uncovered for 10 minutes.
Leave to cool slightly. Skim any excess oil floating on the surface. Season to perfection and serve scattered with fresh parsley alongside a steaming bowl of rice or mashed potatoes and braised greens.
Ingredient swaps, answers to your questions, tips & tricks to take this recipe even further.
Oven or Slow Cookers: I have recently started mothering this stew in the oven. After getting it going on the stove top, preheat to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 and, after step 5, cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 3 hours, or until perfectly tender. Stir halfway through and leave uncovered to thicken for the final 30 minutes of cooking.
With slow cooking, I have found the need to reduce the liquid content as a lot more moisture is trapped within slow cookers. Pay attention to your own slow-cooker and reduce the stock by a third to start, add more later if needed.