I often derive calm and pleasure amidst the angst and tribulations of everyday trying to-meet-the-bills and fund my dream life goal by creating in the kitchen. Assembling a great gang of ingredients to nourish myself and any worthy friends who happen by is especially poignant during the winter months when stews take the culinary center stage in my house. It is the antithesis of the summer outdoor grilling season – not that I do not grill in the cold weather, mind you – a topic for another post, but these “stick-to-your-ribs” dishes go a long way thereby going pretty easy on the budget!
Today’s specialty is “Oxtail Stew” and before you go “ewww!”, it is not from an ox as you might picture one mentally, but from the male bull beast of burden as related to the cow. I’ve read that “oxtail” originates from the Portuguese “Rabo”; the tail of the cow. They can be a bit pricy at first glance in the United States, and I always wait until I see two good, thick packs of at least three large vertebra in my meat case for under five dollars each.
Once having assembled your meat back at home, remove them from store packaging, rinse in cold water and then place them in your metal mixing bowl to begin the marination party. The night before, I used one cup of anything from Cabernet Sauvignon to Red Chablis or Burgundy (really the best) to begin the marinade after dousing them with some extra virgin olive oil, garlic powder, course ground black pepper, beef broth,oregano, Italian seasonings (marjoram, rosemary, etc), a couple of bay leaves,Worcestershire and soy sauce. Refrigerate to let these “guys” party all night long. Generally you do not want to cover them in the liquid, just let them bathe.
The next afternoon, or whenever your are mentally ready to commit to it, remove them from the fridge and allow to gain room temperature. This is where I begin to relax into the mix in a fashion similar to when I do a music blend. I pour myself a glass of the kind of dry red wine that I will use for the oxtails to sip as I begin to chop veggies and season. Often the fresh “stew mix” is hard to find in the town I live in, therefore I have to “cheat” and get the frozen variety. Now is a good time to take IT out of the freezer as well. I always buy fresh parsnips as the frozen blend doesn’t include them. Get at least two; they are from the carrot family and in-fact, I remember watching Bugs Bunny chomp a few in his day when I was a child watching Looney Tunes! lol I called then “white carrots” until I learned their real name. I also get extra celery, mushrooms, small red potatoes (or you can use the ones in a can), carrots (you can never have enough, and remember your Mum told you, “They are good for your eyes!”), beets and any other root vegetables you desire – it is a party-in-the-making, so the more invitees, the merrier for your palate!
Choose your largest, deepest pot with a top – I use the iron one passed down from my Mum, pour a tablespoon of olive oil in and apply low heat. Grab two medium-sized onions, four nice garlic cloves, place on your cutting board, and begin to chop the onions and mash the cloves. Mix them all together (wipe the onion tears from your eyes or get some air), and put on some good music.
When you toss in a tiny drop of water and it sizzles, it is time to plop your onions and garlic in the pan, making sure you have enough oil going on so they do not dry-out nor stick, cover loosely and brown them with a dash of seasoned salt, coarse black pepper to taste and a tsp of butter over a low flame or heat if you have electric coils (which I hate, btw, “Arrrgh!”) for about ten minutes, give or take. Once you catch that aroma, remove the onions and garlic with a large spoon with holes in it to let the oil stay in the pot, set aside in foil and introduce your marinated oxtails, without the marinade, to your now seasoned pot, sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over them lightly, and cover loosely to brown, turning once for even coloring. While this is happening you should be preparing your parsnips and other fresh veggies by washing, scraping/grading and chopping into big chunks.
Once you brown on both sides (about twenty minutes) re-introduce your onions, garlic, one can of stewed tomatoes and the marinade! Let’s get this party started! Make sure your liquid almost covers the meat – if not, add a bit more broth and vino, etc., cover and bring to a strong simmer.
Change the music, do some clean-up at the sink, and by then it is time to bring all the veggies to the dance! Remove the lid and let them IN! The once-frozen bag will temporarily reduce the temperature, but do NOT increase the heat. Just stir them around, cover and go do something else, like TV, work on your resume or blog. This is an all afternoon project, so remember to stir with a huge spoon every thirty minutes or so. Sometimes I don’t even eat it that night, I have something else. I set the pot in the fridge overnight and slowly re-heat it the next day, while I make the bed of brown rice that I will serve it over. Egg noodles are also useable this way.
Healthy and hearty, it is soon time to “get down” into the main course!
IMO, men should hone their cooking skills for basic survival, AND the time when they will be able to lovingly share personal recipe delights with the object of their affection in order to insure and seal the lasting connection! (I am looking forward to doing just that this year!) Garnish with fresh parsley, fennel, basil or dill leaves, please. “Viola!” bon appetite!