'This is what my pal Helen Graves, ace food writer and self-styled sandwich expert would call a ‘project sandwich’: it takes a lot of making, but is totally worth the effort. After a trip to LA where I ate at Philippe’s – the original purveyors of French dip (a roasted meat baguette dipped in the roasting juices) – I started a short-lived French dip sandwich stall in Brixton with my mate Andrew Dolleymore. Before life took over and we had to put our street food ambitions to one side, we had a few successful runs where people queued for our roast beef ‘double dip’ – it was a hit! This version uses oxtail, a cheap, flavoursome cut which creates the richest, most delicious gravy enriched with melted fat and gelatine, for extreme dippage. I like to add spiced pickled beetroots (beets) and red onion for a sweet, acidic kick and a bit of colour, but any pickle you might have lying around will do nicely'.
Check out the ingredients below and watch the video above...
1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) meaty oxtail, trimmed of excess fat – get your butcher to cut it into
4–5 cm (1 ½ –2 in) slices
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic granules
1 tablespoon rapeseed, vegetable or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
700 ml (24 fl oz) red wine
1 star anise
200 ml (7 fl oz) chicken stock (preferably home-made, see page 236, but a cube is fine)
1 tablespoon softened butter
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
1–2 teaspoons good-quality red wine vinegar
Spiced pickled beetroot and pink onion
4 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 small beetroots (beets), neatly peeled and very finely sliced (use a vegetable peeler)
½ red onion, finely sliced
1 bay leaf
2 star anise
pinch of sea salt
3 black peppercorns
small thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
4 crusty French or sourdough baguettes
sliced Gruyere or Cheddar (optional)
good-quality potato crisps (chips) (optional)
Season the oxtail pieces generously with salt, pepper and the garlic granules. Heat the oil in a heavy-based ovenproof casserole and fry the oxtail pieces for about 3 minutes on each side until browned. Transfer the meat to a plate and wipe any excess oil from the pan with
Add the olive oil and sauté the onion for 4–5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the carrots, celery and bay leaves and cook for a further 5–7 minutes, until aromatic and starting to colour slightly. Pour in the red wine and scrape any crust up from the bottom of the pan – this is where the flavour is! Return the oxtail to the casserole, along with the star anise, and cover the meat with the chicken stock. Give it a stir, cover with a lid or foil, and put it in the oven to braise for 3–3½ hours, until the meat is falling off the bone.
While the oxtail is in the oven, make the pickles. Sterilise a jar by putting it through a hot dishwasher cycle or washing it in hot, soapy water, rinsing well and drying it in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Stir the sugar and vinegar together in a mixing bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Add the beetroot and onion slices and stir to coat. Transfer to a nonstick pan and add the bay leaf, star anise, salt, peppercorns, ginger and 1 tablespoon of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for a minute or so. Transfer to the sterilised jar, leave the lid off until cooled, and then seal.
Once cooked, remove the oxtail from the casserole with a slotted spoon and allow to cool slightly (leave the oven on). Shred the meat from the bone into a separate bowl, and discard the bones. Pass the braising liquor through a fine sieve into a glass jug and skim off as much fat as you can from the surface. Return the liquor to the casserole and reduce over a medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Heat some little bowls for the gravy in the oven.
Mix the butter and flour together until you have a smooth paste (roux), and add it to the braising liquor over the heat, using a whisk to incorporate it (this will begin to thicken the sauce as it cooks). Cook for another 10 minutes for the flour to cook out and the sauce to turn into a thick-ish gravy. Taste for seasoning, and add 1 teaspoon or so of red wine vinegar for acidity. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and keep the gravy warm.
Just before serving, immerse the oxtail in the warm gravy over the heat for a couple of minutes to warm it through, before removing it with a slotted spoon.
Slice open the baguettes, and fill with the gravy-coated oxtail. Top with the pickles and Gruyère or Cheddar, and serve with little bowls of the hot gravy. Dip and enjoy! Alternatively, if you don’t mind things getting messy, just pour the gravy all over your sandwich. Serve with some potato crisps.