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Saturday, March 1, 2014


At first glance, it might appear that Quarles Farm offers only baked goods, salsas, jams, and jellies at the Winter Farmers' Market. Not so. Dig a little deeper and ask a few questions. Their coolers (loaded with goat, lamb, and beef) are goldmines.  On my last visit, they offered  local apples and parsnips alongside their fantastic canned goods and breads. I was on the prowl for neck bones. Nope. I had to think fast, spin on a dime, flip a coin, journey to the other end, and choose tail. Oxtail. Aside to myself. Oddly, oxtail is commonly referred to as oxtails. Plural. Lots of tails. Many tails.  I kind of get the notion. Packaged supermarket oxtail fools the eye with big meaty chunks of tail. Locally sourced oxtail is readily packaged as one tail. Oxtail. Singular. From the fat butt-end section down to the tiny fly swatter, it's one tail.

Slapped back to reality, I passed on the apples, snagged a bundle of parsnips, and picked up a gorgeous piece of tail. My initial plan was to conjure up an intoxicating curried neck bone stew. With the same gelatinous marrow content of neck bones, I could have easily substituted the tail for the neck bones. In the end, I took a straightforward approach (with a few tricks) with the oxtail.

Red Wine Braised Oxtail with Parsnips, Carrots, and Cipollini Onions.
Braised oxtail is a beautiful thing. Because of its wonderful fat content, oxtail is best prepared a day in advance. Perfect timing for a lazy weekend.

Day 1.
After tying the oxtail pieces with kitchen twine to keep them intact, I seasoned them liberally and  browned them in sizzling  hot oil. When they were deeply browned (almost charred), I pulled them from the pot before adding chopped celery, onions, carrots, parsnips, and 2 tablespoons tomato paste. When the vegetables and paste caramelized, I deglazed the pot with a full bottle of cabernet sauvingnon. I scraped the bits from the bottom of the pot, let the wine reduce by half, and added 2 cups beef stock. At that point, it was pretty basic stuff. Beef stew, in a sense. To give the braise an extra oomph, I tossed 3 salty oil-packed anchovies into the stock along with 2 tablespoons pulverized dried porcini mushrooms. Although it might sound odd, I knew the anchovies would melt into the stock and quietly disappear. Masquerading as invisible umami bombs, the glutamates in both the mushrooms and anchovies would actually make the beef taste beefier. Win. That said, I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, added bay leaves, covered the pot, and slid it into a 350 degree oven.

After 31/2  hours, I pulled the pot from the oven, removed the meat to a side plate, drained the stock, discarded the vegetables, and wiped out the pot before pouring the reduced cooking liquid back into the pot. I nestled the oxtail into the warm stock and added a few fresh parsley sprigs to steep in the braising liquid while it cooled. When completely cooled, I covered the pot and slid the oxtail into the refrigerator to chill  overnight.

Day 2.
Thankfully, I tied the delicate meat with twine because the bundles were completely embedded in the coagulated beefy wine jelly. After carefully plucking them from the wine-infused demi glace, I skimmed the fat from the top, spooned the remainder into a cast iron skillet, added the oxtail, and set it aside.

To balance the richness of the oxtail I simply steamed a few carrots and parsnips until they were tender before sauteing them in butter with blanched cipollini onions. I set the vegetables aside and  gently rewarmed the braised oxtail over a medium flame. As the demi glace melted into the skillet, I used it to constantly baste the meat  until it was deeply glazed and lacquered with the mahogany jus. I scooped the tail from the sultry sauce, tucked the pieces into swaths of chive-flecked white sweet potato puree, and tumbled the vegetables to the side before finishing with lightly dressed celery leaves, slivered red pepper, and baby arugula.

Here's the deal, there is nothing fancy about braised oxtail. I mean, it's a tail.  A fly swatter. A bony thing with meat.

There was a lot going on. Cooked low and slow for hours, the collagens dissolved into the meat, rendering it utterly tender. Unleashed from its twined corset, the tender shreds spilled into the unctuous sauce, peppery parsnips, and soft sweet carrots. Hearty, lusty, and far from the dainty, the innocent meat-and-three quickly morphed into a shameless bone sucking meaty romp.

The perfect piece of tail.

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