A dish of oxtail soup is a thing to share with those you love. Or not. (depends how much you love them)
What’s not to like about oxtail?
It’s traditional farm fare, a simple country dish with robust complex favors – many parts of the world have perfectly succulent ways to use oxtail as a matter of fact. It’s a slow simmered dish, perfect for cold days. It’s a dish that can be made in advance and in quantity. Reheating it makes it even better.
Never had oxtail? If you like osso bocco, you are simply going to love oxtail. It might take a little looking to find them, although they are becoming more popular. It used to be a throwaway part of the animal – and used to be very inexpensive. But chefs in search of robust flavors obtained from slow traditional methods and the new-again emphasis on eating from nose-to-tail, is making oxtail almost trendy. So more expensive. It is one of the few cuts that I buy retail: there is after all only one tail in cattle, so when I buy a split beef half, I get – at most , if I am lucky – one tail. Hardly enough. The farmer I buy it from sells it for less than burger meat, typically the cheapest cut. So, still a pretty good deal.
Maybe oxtail is intimidating because people think of it as offal and are grossed out. Technically it is offal, but it is not an organ. Not that that would stop me from eating it if it were. Or maybe people are intimidated because they do not know how to cook it. It’s simple really, it should be cook slow. Very slow. A day in advance if possible so it has a chance to sit and mellow even more.
Oxtail is a well worked muscle, full of connective tissue, and collagen. Therefore, it cannot be cooked like a steak. But it lends itself incrediby well to preparations such as beef bourguignon, pot-au-feu, hochepot – slowly simmered dishes with a few aromatics to yield a rich dish of complex flavors and incredible unctuosity. In other words, gentle heat for a looong time will just metamorphose that tough meat into something incredibly tender with a depth of flavor and a richness that no filet mignon can provide. Even if coated in sauce béarnaise. The collagen helps to give body to the stock, making it gel when it’s cold – and providing that unique mouth-coating richness.
So yes, oxtail takes some time to cook. But Oxtail Soup is not difficult, or does not have to be. No tricky technique, does not require many ingredients nor exotic ones (unless you consider juniper berries or ginger exotic!). And, most of the time involved is, in fact, spent waiting around.
Sure you can add lots of vegetables to it – or lots of spice, as many cuisines around the world make good use of oxtail (see below for links to other recipes), but this is such a flavorful cut when done properly, that you don’t need much. Sure go ahead, make something more complicated, but do not let the fact that you don’t have some of ingredients called for in a recipe stop you. Surely you have onions? carrots? celery? some herbs? so, there, you are ready to start. If you don’t have juniper berries, than substitute some peppercorns, or some whole coriander seeds. Even omit. Ditto for ginger. It’ll still be incredibly good. And one of the richest dishes you ever had – which is why I like to add some chopped ginger and a touch of vinegar. A little balance, you know.
Make ahead, it will get better sitting in the broth and then reheated (gently, please, not in the microwave!). Eat as a soup or serve the meat and the veggies as one course and the broth as another. Strain and reduce some of the broth to get a demi-glace like sauce.
I made it this week-end, I have had it 4 times already, and there should be two more servings. The first night I ate it as is; the second day with a big helping of homemade sauerkraut (lunch, on a day working at home!); the third time with sautéed garlicky sunchokes with the broth served separately; and lastly with cubed cooked celeriac.
Some recipes call for getting the meat off the bones before serving. I think it’s a waste, half the fun is gnawing the gelatinous parts and sucking all the juice and the marrow out of the bones. Not using your fingers is not an option. As I said earlier: a dish you eat with those you love. But only if they love you and oxtail too.
Some recipes also instruct you to remove the fat. While I pay attention to my fat intake, I pay more attention to the kind of fat we eat. Fat from a grass fed pastured steer has a pretty good profile and tastes good. And fat contributes to the winning richness of the dish. But you do what yo have to do, and omit pouring the fat from the broiled meat into the pot if you must. You can also refrigerate the soup, and remove the fat that solidifies on top.
So, snowed in? I’ve got a remedy for you: a steaming bowl of oxtail soup with a fresh just-out-of-the-oven buttermilk biscuit; for dessert, peaches canned from this summer with a few tablespoons of (homemade) yogurt; followed by a good book, a glass of Wasmund’s (batch 30) and a small dark fudgie brownie. What the heck! May as well indulge thoroughly once in a while. After all fat snow flakes are dancing outside, already 2 inches on the ground; the chicken are in for the night; the greenhouse heat’s on. Relax!
Yield: Serves 6 as a main dish
- 3 pound oxtail, already sliced
- 1 T olive oil
- 3 medium onions (leeks would be even better), thinly sliced
- 1 celery rib, thinly sliced
- 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1 piece og ginger, about 1″, minced
- 1 quart chicken broth *
- 1 quart water (+/-)
- 4 few juniper berries
- a few sprigs of thyme, a small sprig or rosemay
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 sage leaves
- 3 garlic cloves, degermed and minced
- a dash of balsamic vinegar of Modena
- 1 bunch parsley
1. Broil the oxtail on high about 5 minutes on each side until the fat start to brown.
2. Meanwhile sweat your onions (or your leeks) and the celery in the olive oil in a Dutch oven
3. Add the meat – and any accumulated fat and juice – to the pot, along with all other ingredients – except the parsley. Rinse the pan where you broiled the oxtail with warm water (about a cup), scrape to get as much as the attached meat as you can and dump in the pot.
4. Bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer 3 1/2 to 4 hours or until the meat is very tender and starts falling off the bones.
5. 10 minutes before the end, add the chopped parsley.
6. Serve hot with some good bread as a soup. Or take the meat (and bones, don;’t forget the bnes!) out and serve on top of mashed potatoes, or mashed celeriac or with roasted veggies and just a little off the broth as gravy. The broth can be served separately or strained and slowly reduced for a demi-glace like sauce.
Locavore log: oxtail from Harmany Highland cattle, carrots & herbs from the garden
* Note: you could use water instead of the broth. I just had some light chicken broth on hand made from the bones of a roasted chicken and I had to use it.
Other oxtail recipes on the web:
- Oxtail Stew from Elise at Simply Recipes
- Ed Bruske has 2 recipes to share at the Slow cook: here and here
- A Jamaican recipe
- A Vietnamese recipe via the New York Times, as well as a South African one
- Finally, two Korean recipes: here and here