Braised oxtail with five-spice

Braised oxtail with five-spice

Michael Fountoulakis

Vietnam’s first TV chef, Mrs Van, has given us this recipe for her signature dish; it is just as she prepares it at her tastefully decorated flagship restaurant in downtown Saigon, Dzoan Cam Van.

An unassuming elderly lady, she looks more like a kindly auntie than a popular media personality. Mrs Van became a professional chef by happy coincidence. A high-school teacher by trade, she spent the best part of 1989 with relatives in Australia. Unable to work due to a visitor visa, she moonlighted as a home caterer for local Vietnamese food outlets. When she got back to Vietnam, she had lost her teaching position but through a friend working in the industry, got a one-off job as a demonstration cook on television. The combination of her love for teaching and cooking was an instant hit with TV audiences and she has been on air for the last sixteen years—and in that time has also published twenty-eight cookbooks.


Quantity Ingredient
1kg oxtail pieces
1/2 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons salt
vegetable oil, for frying
1 brown onion, diced
1 tablespoon five-spice powder
1 long red chilli, seeded and sliced
4 tomatoes, cut into eight pieces
4 carrots, cut into 3 cm chunks
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon caster sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine the flour with half the salt and roll the oxtail in the mixture, shaking off any excess.
  2. Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the oxtail and cook for 5–6 minutes, or until browned on all sides, then transfer to a large baking dish.
  3. Wipe out the frying pan and return to the heat. Add some more oil and fry the onion for 3–4 minutes, until translucent. Stir in the five-spice powder. Cook for 1–2 minutes, or until fragrant, ensuring it doesn’t burn and become bitter.
  4. Add the chilli, tomatoes and carrot and stir to coat in the spices. Add the soy sauce, sugar, remaining salt and 600 ml water. Bring to the boil, then pour over the oxtail. Top the dish up with extra water if the oxtail pieces are not completely covered by liquid.
  5. Cover with a lid or foil and cook in the oven for 2½–3 hours, or until tender. Serve with crusty bread or steamed rice.
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