Sunday, November 07, 2021

Adapt, Improvise, Ovecome

      Tam and I really like oxtail stew.  In this time of high, odd and variable beef prices, oxtail has been relatively stable -- when it can be found.

      Around the middle of last week, our neighborhood grocer had some nice, meaty oxtails.  The long cooking time means it's not a dish for a work day, but I bought a couple (along with plenty of stew beef) and put them in the freezer.

      I thawed them for Saturday.  Cooking is easy; just salt and pepper (and a hint of garlic for luck) on the meat and a dab of olive oil in the pan to carry it until the fat on the oxtail starts to render.  I added the stew beef soon after, and go after it with kitchen snips to turn and divide; the pieces were about twice the size I wanted.

      You want to get the oxtails well-browned on all sides.  While that was happening, I took my time peeling and cubing a very large turnip, and sprinkling it with smoked paprika; then in it went, and I covered the pan.

      I was doing laundry and working on a small project in my room (adding a coathook for empty clothes-hangers on the side of the furniture I built last week), and just peeking in on the meat.  Between the turnip and the meat. there was a lot of liquid in the stewpan.  After nearly an hour, I added more vegetables: a nice red onion,* three stalks of celery, a couple of large carrots, and several small potatoes from a bag of white, purple and pink potatoes (call it one larger potato's worth).  Still plenty of liquid in the pan, so I stirred it up and went looking for the next ingredients.

     There are a lot of ways to make oxtail stew.  I usually add crushed tomatoes and beef stock, resulting in something akin to Knorr's oxtail soup (apparently sold as "Tomato Beef Soup" in the U.S. these days, because people here don't understand "oxtail").  I was sure I had crushed tomatoes on the pantry shelf -- don't I always?

      No, I didn't.  Plain tomato sauce, yes.  Plain tomato paste, yes.  Pasta sauce... H'mm, butter and carmelized onion, no....  Tomato and truffle?  Oh, why not?

      I checked with Tam, to see if she'd be okay with it:

     "I trust your cooking judgement implicitly."

      Okay.  No pressure, then.

      The stock looked pretty good and I didn't think it needed any help; I added the bottle of marinara, rinsed the last of it out with a little water, stirred it and put the lid back on for fifteen minutes of slow simmering.

      Five minutes in, I pulled out one of the two big oxtail sections to start taking the meat off.  While it cooled enough to handle, I got a tablespoon and had a taste of the sauce, a little stew meat and a bit of celery and onion.  It was....

      Amazing!  Oxtail is very high in umami.  So is truffle.  Tomato works well with both and the combination was marvelous.  The long, slow cook time had left the stew meat soft and juicy.

      Getting most of the meat off the oxtail bones took closer to twenty minutes, at which point the aroma had wafted through the house and Tam was all but hovering. 

      It was really good.  We went back for seconds! (Not huge seconds.  There was enough left over to to freeze for later.)

      Over dinner, we watched a couple of episodes of Inside Job (NSFW!) on Netflx, a very funny animated show if you take your conspiracy theories with a side of parody.  Well, more of a main dish of parody, plus dessert.
* I buy whatever kind of onion is cheapest, and that's usually red or white, occasionally yellow.  I think the red ones have a more complex flavor.


Prairiedruid said...

Oxtails are awesome. I put them in my crock pot with a sliced up onion, salt and pepper, and a splash of red wine. Served with homemade mash potatoes makes a great meal on a cold and rainy fall day.

Pigpen51 said...

My grandmother was an amazing cool. Growing up on a farm, and who didn't in her time, they all counted on the farm to feed their typically large families. Since she had a horrible allergy to picking cucumbers, she ended up as the cook for the whole family from an early age. So she learned to cook in quantity.
Oxtail stew was a favorite, but she always added barley to hers. Also, one of her favorite cooking tools was a pressure cookers, to speed up the meat or beans a bit. She still soaked her beans overnight, but then cooked them along with a ham bone, in the pressure cooker, to speed up the time.
The ox tails often were given to her by our local butcher for free, as there was no outlet for them, back at that time. Now they make a good amount of money on it, due I think to the cooking shows using it.
Another thing that I have noticed myself is that when frying bacon, the amount of fat is not the same as when I was a kid. My mom used to keep a coffee can next to the stove to save her bacon grease in, to use it for cooking or frying in. Now you can hardly get any bacon grease from store bought bacon. I know that they make bacon to suit the consumer but I prefer to get it from the butcher shops here in town, closer to the farmers. If I loved bacon more, I would get 2-3 families and buy a whole hog, and split the cost, and the animal, and buy one from one of the farmers around here, and have it butchered by the local butcher. It would end up being much cheaper than a store, and of much better quality. I know of several people who have done that with entire steers and done the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Ms. X,

As ever, I do love your cooking posts. :) A couple observations/questions, if I may?

1) man, do I envy your prices on oxtails! I can generally find them around here, but best I can figure is that the local grocers view them as chi-chi, and price accordingly. (At last check, they went for as much/pound as a nice boneless ribeye…)

2) that being said, I have taken lately to making beef and barley soup in the crockpot and have found it a treat on a cold evening after a busy day. I usually start it on the stove to brown the veggies and meat, deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine (if open/handy) or broth (if not), then add everything to the crockpot to cook over the afternoon. Tasty, and usually makes enough for either another night later in the week plus some lunches! I haven’t tried a turnip in there yet, though, and I think that has definite possibilities…thanks!