The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Oxtails And Friends

November 23rd, 2009 · 2 Comments · Posted in dinner, Recipes

Good to the bone

Good to the bone

Some braised meat dishes are so rich they take your breath away. I place oxtails in that category. Richness dictates smaller portion sizes, which fits oxtail perfectly since this is one piece of meat that is mostly bone. Oxtail belongs to that group of odd bits that butchers in a bygone era would practically give away. Today, at $5 a pound, oxtails really are no bargain, considering the small amount of actual meat involved. Still, they are worth every penny and should be eaten more, especially as we head into the dark days of winter.

Our dairy, South Mountain Creamer, sells its oxtails (or beef tails) for delivery. Strangely, the meatiest part–near the butt end–is not sliced as you would normally find it in the supermarket. What you get is this strange, round roast-looking thing trailing a bunch of smaller pieces that have been mostly, but not completely, sliced through. Since we had friends coming for dinner, I supplemented this with  five pounds of oxtail from Whole Foods, where they keep this delicacy in the freezer section. Why they don’t display it with the other beef cuts is a mystery to me.

Oxtails fit perfectly our preferred method of entertaining, which is to have all the food prepared and just warming when guests arrive so we can kick back with a cocktail and join the conversation. I started the oxtail two days ahead, which leaves plenty of time to separate the meat from the braising liquids, refrigerate, and remove the fat that rises to the surface. By that time, all the lovely collagen in the oxtails will have turned the braising liquids into a solid gel.

Cook the oxtails according to the instructions in this previous post, first browning the meat, then deglazing the pot with aromatic vegetables and red wine. The original recipe calls for an addition of beef stock, which makes perfect sense. But I already had a hearty vegetable stock on hand, so I used that instead without at appreciable loss of flavor.

I pictured serving the oxtails over a bed of garlicky mashed potatoes. Yes, I know. I don’t eat starchy foods any more. But I made an exception for these oxtails. There had to be something under them to catch all the incredible juices and the sauce (more on that to come). I cut about 2 1/2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes into large diced and cooked them in salted water, meanwhile roasting two whole heads of garlic in a 300-degree oven. Simply slice the tops of the garlic heads and rub with oil. You’ll know they’re done when the cloves have turned a nutty brown and squeeze out of their skins like toothpaste. Mash them up with the potatoes, along with plenty of warm half-and-half and butter. Do this a day or two ahead and simply pack the finished potatoes away in the fridge.

I like to keep the food in aluminum containers, which can later go directly into the oven.

On the side I wanted some root vegetables. These are extremely simple and add some nice color to the plate. Simply peel a couple of turnips, a coupe of large carrots, a couple of big parsnips, cut into batons and cook  separately in salted water until tender. Rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking. This also can be done a day or two ahead, then packed in the fridge.

Finally I turned to one of my favorite vegetable preparations: ruby chard braised with red wine and pomagranate molasses. Clean a bunch or two of ruby chard, with stems, then cut into 1-inch pieces, from the base of the stems all the way to the tips of the leaves. Pile these into a large, heavy skillet or pot with 2 tablespoons (or 3) of extra-virgin olive oil, a generous splash or two of red wine and cook, covered, over moderate heat. The whole mess of greens with shrink down. Season with salt to bring out the juices. Continue cooking until the stems are tender. Then stir in a tablespoon or two of pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern groceries). This also can be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated.

So now you have a refrigerator full of food just waiting for the day of your dinner. You can focus on making hors d’oeuvres and dessert and having a glass of wine. A few hours before guests arrive, take the food out of the fridge. About two hours before arrival, fire the oven up to around 180 degrees. Finally, about 30 minutes before guests arrive, place your aluminum food containers in the oven where the food can slowly come up to temperature while you are enjoying cocktails then salad with your friends.

When it becomes time to serve the entree, I set up a plating station as you might in a restaurant, with big, shallow, bistro-style bowls on one end of the counter and the food items lined up in a neat row. I place a generous scoop of mashed potatoes in the 6 o’clock position of the bowl, cover it with two big pieces of oxtail and some of the aromatic vegetables they cooked with, then drop a nice spoonful of root vegetables at 10 o’clock. I hand the bowl to one of my guests–our friend Keith, a fellow caterer who always jumps in to help. He places some of the pomagranate chard at 2 o’clock, then ladles some of the special sauce over the meat.

I need to mention this sauce briefly, because it did not come with the original recipe. After being de-greased, the braising liquids go back on the stove and cook quitely until they have reduced to a fairly thick sauce, almost a glaze. I add just a bit more red wine (in this case, a Malbec) to pick up the flavor, and add garam masala to taste. When it is time to dress the oxtails, you can heat the sauce again until it is just steaming.

People swoon over this meal. The only way to finish it is with my wife’s most excellent coffee creme brulee–garnished with mint and chocolate-covered coffee beans–and a cup of espresso.

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  • rossco

    this is an outstanding recipie!
    for a south west twist try using New Mexico Chiles & tomatillos !

  • Ed Bruske

    Rossco, oxtails lend themselves to any number of treatments. Southwest sounds fine, also Asian, North African, etc. Thanks for the tip.