Once a year…
December 1, 2016; Savannah, GA: Yesterday was 80 degrees here in Savannah and I carved out some time to go walk on the beach; tonight it’s going down into the low 40s. One of my favorite cold-weather dishes is oxtail stew, so when I saw them reasonably priced in my local market, I bought a couple of pounds and made this old favorite of mine. I published the recipe in my first book, but I’m surprised I’ve never run a recipe here on the blog. It’s absolutely delicious, but it’s involved: nothing complicated, but it does take time… and pulling the unctuous surroundings from the morsels of meat is not a particularly pleasant task. Not that I mind, but I know how some of you are. For some reason, it’s one of those dishes that I make about once/year. Like the fruitcakes (see November 14, 2007) and chocolate chip cookies I made today as well. And the duck confit (see July 1, 2008) I’ll make next week. And the pickles and preserves that I make as the produce comes into season.
Oxtail Stew is very rich, especially this version made with a bottle of wine. This recipe is from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking. I see that in my headnotes, I wrote that I don’t like cold weather. That was 25+ years ago and my metabolism has changed and I have since lived through “Snowmageddon” in Washington, DC, and through the cold winter in European history while in Bulgaria. I don’t mind it so much now — now that I discovered fleece, thanks to my rock star friend Kate Pierson!
I don’t like cold weather; we are fortunate to have only a few weeks of it in the Lowcountry. Late January and early February, though, can be awfully cold when the rains set in and the temperature hovers at freezing for several weeks. I can remember when few houses were built for the cold, and it slipped in through the windows, under the doors, and through floors and chimneys. It only takes about three consecutive, cold, gray winter days here before I buy some oxtail joints and make a stew. Oxtail is full of bones, but the meat is indescribably rich and sweet. It is one of my favorite flavors, and it cooks for hours on end, warming the house.
These days, oxtails are usually sold already cut up into 2″ joints, weighing about 1/2 pound each. Buy at least one joint for each serving. Oxtail dishes are all the more flavorful when begun a day in advance.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
4 or 5 meaty oxtail joints, each about 2″ long (about 2 pounds, total)
4 tablespoons butter
a bouquet garni of a rib of celery, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and fresh parsley OR
a teaspoon of a dried herbal mix such as herbes de Provence
1 large or 2 small carrots, cut into 1-1/2″ pieces
4 medium onions, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 cups full-bodied red wine (or use the whole bottle)
2 cups beef, veal, chicken, or vegetable stock, or water
1/2 pound small fresh mushrooms, trimmed of stems
Early in the day or the day before:
Season the flour with salt and pepper to taste and toss the oxtail pieces in it to coat them lightly. In a large Dutch oven, melt half the butter, add the bouquet garni, the carrots, the onions, and the oxtail pieces, and sauté them until everything is richly browned. Add the garlic and the remaining flour and stir until the mixture is smooth. Add the wine and stock or water, mix well again, and bring the pot to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot tightly and allow to simmer slowly on top of the stop or in a slow (300 – 325 ) oven for about 3 hours. Remove the oxtail pieces from the pot, strain the sauce into a bowl, and discard the vegetables. If you plan to serve a casual meal with the stew as dinner, leave the meat on the bones of the oxtail. If you plan to serve it over noodles, pick the meat from the bones. Refrigerate overnight or continue the recipe from this point.
Two hours before serving:
Remove any fat that has risen to the surface of the sauce, then reduce it in a saucepan until it has the consistency of cream. Put the remaining two tablespoons of butter in the Dutch oven, add the mushrooms, and sauté until they begin to lose their water. Add the oxtail and the sauce to the stewpot, cover tightly, and allow the stew to cook on low heat on top of the stove, or in a slow oven for another 1-1/2 – 2 hours. Let your nose be your guide to when the stew is done. Serve hot over egg noodles, preferably homemade.