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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Head To Tail

My boss had a side of slaughtered beef in her freezer. Knowing that her family would only eat certain parts of the animal, I was the beneficiary of the offal stuff they didn't want. My bag of goodies was filled with offal things along with bits and parcels from the entire side of beef from head to tail. Literally. Oxtails. Tail.


A couple of days ago, on a wonderfully dreary day, I pulled the gifted oxtails out of the freezer to thaw for a long slow braise.  It was the perfect day for languid cooking.

When I usually purchase oxtails from the market, they are beautifully packaged, perfectly symetrical, and equally sized.  When I unwrapped my gifted not-for-sale package of oxtails, I was surprized to find one long tail.  Oxtail. Singular.  The whole tail. The tail started from the large meaty end attached to the hind quarters of the animal and finished with the teeny tiny end used to swat flies.  Interesting.

 Have your butcher cut the tail into equal portions at the joints.

My butcher wasn't having a glass of wine with me in my kitchen.

Ok, so I destroyed my favorite cleaver years ago trimming a tree in the back yard, so that wasn't an option.  I sharpened my Whustof  knives to slice the tail. Didn't happen.  Eventually, I used a heavy duty serrated knife to gently slice the tail into practical serving pieces.  I left the the tiny fly swatter intact as a flavor enhancer.

Braising is very forgiving. Anything cooked long enough to render tenderness cannot go wrong. 

Usually, I go the bourguignon route when brasining oxtails.  Last night, I wanted to try something a bit different. I took the tails on an asian journey with a riff on orange beef.  Instead of a quick crisp stir-fry version of orange beef, I used the same flavor profiles for a long methodical slow braise.

Using what I had on hand in the pantry and refrigerator, it was more of a method than a recipe.

After seasoning the oxtails, I browned them in a dutch oven until they were deeply caramelized, removed them to a side plate, and dropped fresh minced ginger, sliced onions, sliced celery, sliced red bell peppers, salt, and pepper into the hot seasoned oil. 

When the vegetables softened without coloring, I added fresh minced garlic,  fresh orange peel and red pepper flakes.  Just before the garlic browned, I deglazed the pan with 1/2 of dry sherry (in lieu of shaoxing wine) and let it reduce by half before adding 1 cup of good quality fermented soy sauce, 2 cups of chicken stock, 2 cups of beef stock, 1 cup of tomato sauce, 1/2 cup of rice wine vinegar, fresh orange juice,  fresh parsley, and bundled cilantro stems.

When the braising liquid came to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer,  skimmed the scum from the surface, dropped in the squeezed orange halves, and lowered the oxtails into the fragrant bubbling bath.  After clamping the lid over the orange beef, I slid the pot into a 325 degree oven and let the tails braise slowly for an improbable 4 1/2 hours, checking them periodically and adding stock when neccessary.

4 1/2 hours.  That was a long time to cook anything.  I could have buried a whole hog in the back yard wrapped with banana leaves,  topped with dampened seaweed, and left to slow cook for hours under glowing embers for a pig roast. 

4 1/2 hours gave me plenty of time to prepare garnishes and accompaniments for the orange beef.  Right.
I soaked rice noodles in hot water until they softened before tossing them with sliced scallions,  sliced red bell peppers, orange zest, a splash of rice wine vinegar, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.  Done.

To add a slight whisper of crunch as a fun garnish, I deep fried fresh cilantro and baby arugula until they turned into bright green delicate translucent edible stained glass herbs.  Fun!

While the oxtails braised, I took a nap.

I trimmed the honeysuckle bushes in the back yard.

Michael and I drank lots of wine.

After 4 1/2 hours, I removed the oxtails from the heavily reduced brasing sauce, tossed the spent vegetables, degreased the liquid, and added a cup of beef stock along with fresh sliced red bell peppers.  When the sauce came back to a simmer, I tumbled the oxtails into the simmering sticky sauce, turning them to coat and heat through.

I plated the rice noodles, topping them with the unctuous oxtails.  Slivered shallots, sesame seeds, green onions, and deep fried arugula finished them off.

Trouble?  Yes.

Worth it? Totally.


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