Sichuan peppercorn red-braised ox tail

By • August 16, 2013 10 Comments

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Author Notes: An unbelievably aromatic dish that I learnt from my mother, a celebrated home cook in her own community. The simple combination of ginger, garlic, sichuan peppercorn and star anise will give you one of the best ox tails you've ever tasted. For more photos: @ Lady and pups

Serves 6

  • 1530 grams of ox tails
  • 4 tablespoons of oil
  • 50 grams (approx 10 large thin slices) of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 12 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 red chilis, optional
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 teaspoons red sichuan peppercorn, coarsely ground
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup rice wine, or sake
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce + 1/8 cup for adjusting
  • 1 cup chicken broth, or water
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  1. NOTE: Because this dish involves caramelising the sugar, I strongly recommend doing the initial sautéing/woking in a NON-STICK pot, then transferring the ingredients to an oven-proof pot (like cast-iron) to finish braising in the oven. In a non-stick pot, the caramelised sugar sticks to the meat instead of to the bottom of the pot, which can easily burn in my experience. This process is called “red braise” in Chinese cooking, referring to the amber/red sheen from the caramel. It’s quite important to grind the red sichuan peppercorn because they can be a bit unpleasant to bite into. You can use a stone mortar or spice grinder to do this, but if you have none, simply wrap the peppercorns in 2 layers of paper towel and smash them with a hammer.
  2. Preheat the oven on 320ºF/165ºC. Rinse clean and dry the ox tails with a clean towel. Heat up a large non-stick wok, or deep saute-pan with 4 tbsp of oil over HIGH heat (don’t worry about the amount of oil because it will be removed later). Brown the ox tails in batches until all surfaces are covered and no more blood is being released. Set the ox tails aside. Drain the oil and leave only 2 tbsp in the wok/pan, and turn the heat down to MEDIUM. Add the ginger slices and cook until they shrivel up and get nicely browned on the edges, approx 5 min. Add the ox tails back into the wok/pan, along with garlic (if you like it spicy, add 2 red chilis as well), star anise, sichuan peppercorn and granulated sugar. Turn the heat back on HIGH, and keep turning the ingredients until the sugar has fully caramelised, and all the ingredients are coated in deep brown, amber sheen.
  3. Transfer ALL the ingredients into a cast-iron or oven-proof pot, and return it to the stove. Add the rice wine and 1/2 cup of soy sauce, and let it gently boil with all the ingredients for a minute (turn and evenly coat the ingredients). Then add the chicken broth or water, and bring back to a simmer. The amount of liquid shouldn’t be able to cover the ingredients (this isn’t a stew), and should taste slightly UNDER-SEASONED at this point because of the excess water, which will evaporate during the braising process. If it taste generally BLAND, then adjust with more soy sauce.
  4. Transfer the pot (with the lid on) to the oven and let braise for 3 ~ 3 1/2 hours. Go back and turn the ox tails once every hour or so to ensure even braising. The ox tails should be very tender and almost falling off the bone, and the braising liquid should have reduced dramatically.
  5. After braising, carefully remove the ox tails from the braising liquid without tearing them. Tilt the pot to direct all the braising liquid to one side, and skim off as much fat from the surface as you can, without reducing the actual sauce on the bottom (there should be QUITE a lot of fat). Discard the star anise and ginger slices (press on the gingers to extract as much sauce that’s clinging onto them before discarding). Leave the garlics which should have melted into the sauce at this point. Return the ox tails back into the pot, and return it to the stove over HIGH heat. Add 1 tsp of rice vinegar and reduce the sauce SLIGHTLY, just until the ox tails are coated in a shiny sheen. Serve the ox tails over hot steamed rice. They get even better the next day.

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