Rochefort 6 Oxtail Stew

I previously wrote about the amazing oxtail stew that my favorite anesthesiologist-acupuncturist-beer geek cooked up for us at a recent gathering. Tender oxtails literally falling off the bone with a rich, earthy red wine sauce made for a glorious entree. I just had to have the recipe, and she gladly obliged. I won’t share it with you guys, though, as I don’t have permission to do so.

Instead, I’ll share the main modifications I made, mostly due to necessity and circumstance rather than explicit choice. The biggest change was that I didn’t have any decent red wine to use for cooking. What we had at home was mostly cheap red wine that I couldn’t quite stand to drink for either being overly sweet or tannic. I had serious doubts that the wine would improve the sauce if used for cooking.

Rather than splurging on a new bottle of wine, I chose to go with a Rochefort 6. I was going against doctor’s orders here, having been warned that using beer could result in a bitter sauce. Hence, I picked a classic Trappist brown ale (Rochefort’s beers tend to defy traditional Belgian style classifications, but authorities generally consider this either a Belgian brown ale or a dubbel).  The #6 is the baby of the Rochefort family, not as alcoholic or strongly-flavored as the #8 and #10. I decided on this because of the warning that a more aggressive brew might overpower the sauce. So the #6 it was, with its dark fruit, slight caramel sweetness, more spicy than bitter hoppiness, and relatively light body that would not concentrate flavor as much when reduced.

The sauce ended up really flavor-packed, if a bit over-seasoned. The latter was through my own fault, at least, as I misread the instructions in my usual headless-chicken cooking panic. Instead of a teaspoon each of the different spices added in, I put in just under a tablespoon. Whoops. I remedied this by just adding more potatoes to absorb some of the flavor. I’d like to imagine that the subtleties of the beer still managed to come out, and it added more depth to the overall flavor of the final dish. At the very least, it didn’t cause the stew to turn out bitter or off.

In all, I’d say that this experiment was a success. I’ve had good experiences replacing red wine with Guinness Foreign Extra in the past, and I think that, depending on the dish, a good Belgian brune would also work wonders. Perhaps it’s time to try cooking a Flemish beef carbonade – the traditional beer braised beef and onion stew from Belgium. The weather’s been perfect for it, at least.

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