Chettinad’ish Oxtail Curry


For someone who did not grow up eating oxtail—I think I had it once before I left India and very rarely in my first decade in the US—I do love it now in curries. It’s a perfect cut of beef for slow-cooked curries in particular. The meat becomes wonderfully tender as the bones and gelatin give depth of texture and flavour as they meld with the spices in the curry. If you can’t find oxtail near you—we get ours directly from a south Minnesota farm, but it’s also available in Middle Eastern and Korean groceries in the Twin Cities—you can use short rib or even brisket or cut up chuck. If using a boneless cut suitable for slow-cooking, you should reduce the meat to 2 lbs and add 1 lb of soup bones (ideally with marrow) for that extra oomph. The other essential ingredient here is kalpasi/dagad phool, a lichen that is essential in Chettinad cooking, and which thankfully is now available easily in desi stores in the US, and also online. Speaking of Chettinad cooking, I’m not following any specific Chettinad recipe here, which is why I call this a Chettinad’ish curry. Give it a go anyway!

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs oxtail, separated
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves
  • The following whole garam masala: 2 small pieces cinnamon/cassia bark; 5-7 green cardamom pods
  • 1 tblspn worth of dagad phool/kalpasi [affiliate link]
  • 2 medium onions, halved and sliced
  • 1 tspn freshly crushed garlic
  • 1 tspn freshly crushed ginger
  • 3/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1 tspn red chilli powder
  • The following spices, lightly toasted, cooled and ground to a powder: 2 tspns coriander seed; 2 tspns zeera/cumin seeds; 1 tspn fennel seeds; 1 tspn methi/fenugreek seeds; 1 tspn black peppercorn; 1 tspn Sichuan peppercorn; 3 star anise
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 1 heaped tblspn jaggery or dark brown sugar
  • 1 tblspn fish sauce
  • 3 cups hot water, fresh off the boil (plus more if needed)
  • Salt
  • 3-4 tblspns neutral oil of choice

Preparation

  1. Sprinkle some salt lightly on both sides of the oxtail segments and brown in a cast iron skillet or similar for 5 minutes on both sides. Remove to a plate and reserve.
  2. In a large Dutch oven or similar heat the oil over medium heat and when it shimmers add the whole garam masala.
  3. As soon as the cinnamon begins to darken crumble in the dagad phool and stir.
  4. Add the curry leaves and stir.
  5. As soon as the curry leaves become glossy add the sliced onions, mix in and saute over medium heat for 10-15 minutes or so till softened and lightly browned.
  6. Add the ginger and garlic and saute till the raw aroma is gone.
  7. Add the haldi, chilli powder, salt and ground spices, mix in and saute for another minute or so.
  8. Add the tomato, mix in and saute till it’s completely broken down and the oil separates.
  9. Add the jaggery and fish sauce and mix in.
  10. Add the browned oxtail segments, mix in and saute, stirring often for another 5-7 minutes, turning the segments a few times.
  11. Add the hot water, mix in, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook till the meat is almost falling off the bone.
  12. Serve with parathas or steamed rice.

Notes

  1. The dagad phool/kalpasi is necessary for this to bear the Chettinad’ish tag but if you leave it out you’ll still end up with a very tasty oxtail (or whatever cut you’re using) curry.
  2. I don’t make this very spicy. I use Deggi mirch [affiliate link] for the colour. You should feel free to use a hotter chilli powder.
  3. Be patient with the sauteing of the onions—the depth of flavour the browned onions will be a good reward.
  4. The last time I made this I cooked it for just over 3.5 hours from the time the lid went on. You might be done earlier or later depending on your pan and heat. Just check as you go and add more hot water, 1/2 cup at a time if it seems to be drying out.
  5. No Reel of this being made but I do have one of the reveal.

2 thoughts on “Chettinad’ish Oxtail Curry

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