On the camping trip that featured the hogs head barbacoa, my friend Conor brought along a couple pounds of oxtail from our JP supermarket. We browned them in a pot with some spices and a quartered onion, covered with water, and set the pot on the edge of the fire to simmer. A few minutes later our friend Marshall got back to the campsite, dumped out the water, stuck the oxtails in a pan on the center of the fire, and covered them with a pound of sliced bacon (unseparated) and a block of ice. I’d describe the experience as similar to watching someone make food while they are sleepwalking, but with more violent rage and foul language from me. Anyway, the oxtails burned, we shifted our attention to the hogs head, and Conor and I agreed to make another attempt at oxtail soup sometime soon.
Two weeks ago we held our annual fantasy football draft and for the first time in the eight year history of our league, the draft was not held in a hotel room at a casino. The downside was that only 5 members of the league convened in Boston with the rest online elsewhere. The upside was that there was a kitchen to make food instead of having to eat crappy central connecticut pizza. Sounded like a perfect chance to take another crack at oxtail stew.
Oxtail is just the tail of a cow, skinned and chopped into sections. Hard cartilage/bone runs down the center of the tail with muscle, segmented by cartilage and surrounded by a thin membrane, running up the sides. Its an extremely popular food item in the Caribbean, mainly in stew form. Most recently it got a little media coverage when Elvis Dumervil of the Denver Broncos claimed he lost 15 pounds in the offseason just by no longer eating oxtail. Back to the cooking.
I started off the stew, in a homage to my oldest friend (and enemy) Marshall, with a half slab of chopped bacon that I browned in the stew pot.
While the bacon cooked I trimmed excess fat and cartilage off the oxtail pieces.
Once the bacon was cooked I removed it from the pot and reserved it. I then browned the oxtail pieces in the remaining bacon grease.
While the meat browned, I got to work on prepping the base of every stew: carrots, onions, and celery. When I asked my wife to grab me a couple “good sized” carrots at Hi Lo, here is what she got for me.
With a bit more effort than usual, I got through the process of chopping the carrots and then the celery and onion.
The last batch of the browned oxtail was removed from the pot and put to the side until the base of the stew was ready for them.
Once the onions were translucent I added a few big pinches of fresh thyme.
At this point in went a few smashed garlic cloves, a couple bay leaves, chicken stock, and red wine. Once I was sure everything had deglazed off the bottom of the pot, I let the liquid simmer for a few minutes, added the oxtail, covered and cooked for four hours.
During the four hours of stewing I cut the remainder of the carrots into sticks and roasted them. I also engaged in some fantasy football panic, an online mock draft, and 1,500 calories of Shuman’s buffalo chicken dip. When I checked the stew, the meat was fork tender which was what I was looking for according to the oxtail research I’d done online. There was also a little time pressure with the draft starting in thirty minutes.
I removed the fully cooked oxtails and set them to the side.
Because the mirepoix had basically cooked down to mush, I poured the remaining liquid through a strainer and pressed the solids down to make sure I got all of the juice back. Once the liquid settled I skimmed off excess fat and returned the liquid to the stove.
Bacon and roasted carrots went in first…
…then chopped scallion and boiled red potatoes…
…plus the oxtail to make this completely awful looking pot of food:
And then… I turned the heat off because the draft was starting. Probably for the best; in my experience soups and chilis are always better after they have rested for a bit. After two sweaty and technology error-laden hours of auction drafting, I decided to turn the heat back on the stew. My first bowl:
The flavor of the stew was awesome; we went through a loaf of painfully hard bread just dipping it in the liquid. The problem was that the Caribbean recipes I saw made a clear point not to cook past fork tender since the meat will fall off the bone. So I did that without questioning it. But it really sucked pausing while eating spoonfuls of stew to gnaw the meat off of the oxtail. If I had taken the time to think about it, I would have just cooked it an extra hour or two to make the meat fall off the bones. Oh well, looks like there will be a third round.
And Con, you still owe me for the oxtails based on our bowling bet.
Next week, the only time I have ever cooked something out of anger towards the animal.