Someone asked me what is in the oxtail stew that made it “Nyonya”. Well, oxtail stew has been around long before I was born. I grew up having oxtail stew on Sundays and public holidays when the extended family gathers. I remember huge pots of oxtail stew sitting on low charcoal stoves, bubbling away merrily while many hands come to scoop the delicious content. Roti Francis, that’s what we used to call the baguettes of yesteryears were unceremoniously torn apart and dipped into the rich fragrant gravy. The longer the pot sits on the stove, the better the flavour, hence it was a meal to be had at any hour of the day, from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm or until the stew runs out.
So what makes the oxtail stew “Nyonya”? For a start, beef is not as popular as pork in a Peranakan household. The Chinese Peranakans do not take beef for some reason or other. But a number of Christian Peranakan families take beef and from them come beef pies, beef curry, oxtail stew, Cottage pies, roast beef ribs, etc. In my family oxtail stew is a must on holidays in anticipation of a deluge of relatives coming to visit. As the Chinese do not like the strong smell of beef, aromatic spices were dry roasted till fragrant and dropped into the stew to scent the gravy. At PeraMakan, a light rempah (spice paste) was made to form the base of the gravy. Shallots, garlic, ginger and lemongrass are ground till fine and marinated with the oxtail. Aromatic spices such as cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves and cardamom are added to the stock. The meat is then stewed for 2 – 3 hours on a low fire. When the oxtails are almost tender, we add the potatoes and carrots and stew for another half hour. The end result is a thick, fragrant and delicious gravy. Before serving, garnish with a generous bunch of chopped celery. Toast your baguettes, switch on your TV and enjoy this fantabulous meal.