Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cooking for Hobbits: Wine-Braised Oxtails

Wine-braised oxtails with a potato-squash mash.
I know that a lot of people think that oxtails are a little weird. I mean, they're beef, but they sure don't look like a steak or a roast.

On the other hand, I've been eating them since I was a kid, so they seem perfectly normal to me.

The funny thing is that now that nose-to-tail cooking is becoming such a trend, a lot of the odd meat items are now selling for premium prices.

Oxtails and short ribs are no longer cheap eats, but at least they're not yet fetching prime prices.

Mom's oxtails always were made with a tomato sauce that verged on being a barbecue sauce, so this was a pretty big departure from what I normally make - there are no tomatoes at all, and a lot more garlic.

The recipe is from The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery by Chris-Rachael Oseland who blogs at Kitchen Overlord. I received a PDF of the book to work from, but there's also a hardcover version.

The only problem I had with this recipe is that Hobbitses who live in the Shire are doing all of their cooking at sea level. Maybe a little lower than sea level.

I mean, they're kinda short, right?

Up here in the Misty Mountains, braised foods take longer to cook, and when we're talking about a tough cut of meat, they can take a LOT longer. I cooked these an additional 2 hours to get them tender. The larger ones could possibly have cooked an hour beyond that to make them super-tender.

If you have a choice, it's great if you can get oxtails all of a similar size for even cooking. They range from pretty small to pretty big. The packages I got were pre-packed and vacuum sealed, so I didn't have much choice in the matter. Of course, you can fish out the smaller ones sooner while you let the larger pieces braise longer. Or separate them into batches for different uses. Oxtail soup with barley is one of my favorites.

Mom always served her oxtails with wide egg noodles or boiled potatoes, but I decided to serve mine with a potato-squash mash. No recipe, just roughly half of each with butter, milk, salt, and pepper. Not fancy, but really, really good.

Wine Braised Oxtails
Recipe from The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery by Chris-Rachael Oseland
Used with permission. All rights reserved.

A lot of people shy away from cuts of meat full of bone and fat. It’s a shame, because that’s where the best flavor hides. In Tolkien’s day, nose to tail eating was the norm. A nice segmented oxtail was a great way to get a few bites of rich meat for the whole family with the added bonus of creating a pot of incredibly flavorful broth that would last the week.

3 lbs / 1.3 kg oxtails
1 tbsp butter
2 c / 475 ml red wine
2 c / 475 ml beef or vegetable broth (whatever you have)
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (about ½ tbsp pulled off the stem)
1 whole onion, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a dutch oven or large, sturdy stockpot. Over a medium-high heat, brown the oxtails on all sides. Make sure to brown the fatty side. That adds a lot of flavor.

Once your oxtails are browned up, drown them in red wine and broth. Add the bay leaves, fresh rosemary, crushed garlic cloves, and whole, peeled onion. You can tuck them in a cheesecloth sachet if you’d like to keep things tidy, but it’s not strictly necessary.

When the wine and broth mix comes to a boil, put the lid on your dutch oven. Reduce the heat to low and let it continue simmering for the next 2 hours. Check on the oxtails every half an hour or so to baste them in the cooking liquid.

If you want to make a stew of it, after two hours of cooking, add 3 lbs / 1.3 kg peeled carrots, potatoes, turnips, or the root veggies of your choice. Make sure they’re all cut into equal sized pieces no more than 2 inches / 5 cm. Bring the pot back to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and keep simmering for the next 30-45 minutes, or until the veggies are all soft, but not yet falling apart.

If you don’t want to make a stew of it, just simmer the oxtails for 2 hours and 45 minutes, or until they’re so tender the meat nearly falls off the bone.

Now you have a couple choices. If you’re feeling extra rustic, you can serve the oxtails whole and let people pick at them to find all the good bits. However, if you have guests who are a little squeamish about seeing an actual piece of bone on their plate, go ahead and pull the meat off the bone for them. If you’re making a stew, pile the meat on top of the vegetables right before serving. If you’re just making oxtails, try serving the meat on top of a fresh slice of Boxty. (Which you can find in the Hobbit cookbook.)

Before serving, remove 1 cup of fluid from the pot to use as a sauce. You can make an easy gravy by whisking together 2 tbsp flour with ⅓ c cold water until the mix is free of lumps. (If you’re allergic to gluten, substitute 1 tsp cornstarch.) Mix the cup of reserved juices into the cold flour water, whisking violently to keep it lump-free. Add salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce to spruce it back up.

After dinner (or after picking the bones clean for squeamish guests), return the bones and other leftover bits of the oxtails to the pot. Fill it the rest of the way up with water and bring it back to a boil. You can add a couple carrots and celery sticks for added flavor if you’d like. Let it boil while you entertain your guests at dinner, or for at least 2-3 hours. That gives it time to leach all the last flavor from the bones and marrow. If the night runs late, you can always put everything in a crockpot set to low and forget about it while you go to sleep.

Either way, you now have delicious home made beef broth you can use in anything. Take a sip and you’ll never want to use store bought broth again. Strain out the solids and store it in the fridge for up to a week.

If you’re not in the mood to make broth from the leftovers, at least make sure to strain all the juices out of the pan left after making your gravy. You can make a simple, filling soup of it the next day by adding 1 part water to 1 part juices or just sop it up with stale bread for a truly lazy yet decadent snack.

I received a PDF of the book at no cost to me. I'll probably buy the hardcover version when it's available, because it's really cute and I'm a geek.