Each week when I think about what I will cook for this post I start in the basement at the freezer. Back in September it was filled to the brim with pork, beef, lamb, fruit, and vegetables gathered and frozen to feed us over the winter. It’s a strategy that serves us well; I rarely go to the supermarket, and when I do it’s usually for Ben & Jerry’s or Breyers. I shop at Trader Joe’s about once a month when I run out of treats for the dog. I’m lucky to have a milkman who delivers milk produced by a local dairy plus local cheese, yogurt, and other assorted local food products…it’s quite handy. While others might go shopping to suit a certain recipe I cook with what I’ve got, life is too short to run to the store every time I cook. I do keep a well stocked pantry and I substitute and improvise as necessary. But alas, the freezer is no longer filled to the brim…in fact it’s looking kind of bare in places. But this week I found two packages of oxtail and I knew just what I wanted to do with it.
Oxtail is actually beef tail and I’ve never eaten it before. But I’ve read a lot about them in other food blogs and heard that it’s quite expensive. Could that be because each beef has only one tail? Here in Wisconsin I paid $3.75/lb for grass-fed Highland beef oxtail from Jordandal Farm, that’s seems like a good price to me…probably not many people are chowing down on oxtail in Wisconsin.
Oxtail needs a long slow braise so that’s exactly what I gave it. Once it was falling off the bone I took it from the oven and fashioned it into a stroganoff. Stroganoff has its origins in Imperial Russia but was also popular in China before WWII, from which it eventually made its way to the US and became a popular dish in the 1950s. Leave it to me to resurrect a 50′s classic…I’ve always been either retro or a throwback…you decide.
The flavor of this dish is enormous, yet not focused on any one component…a complexity of flavors with a beefy roundness to it, it’s unlike any beef flavor I’ve ever experienced, it’s similar to a braised short rib but even richer and fuller than that. The flavor is so exquisite that a little goes a long way…its rich, slippery mouth feel is furthered by the creme fraiche and the porcini mushrooms. This is a dish perfect for a weekend evening…it’ll taunt you all day with its enticing aroma. I served it with fresh pasta that I cut free-hand into wide, short strips. I make pasta with 500g of flour, 1/3 being semolina flour and 2/3 unbleached white, 5 eggs, and a flick of water here and there. I’ve found this formula gives the pasta a tenderness but also a toothsome resistance that compliments the rich velvety flavor of the stroganoff.
6-9 pieces of oxtail, trimmed
1 onion, large dice
1 carrot, large slices
3 cloves garlic
2″ piece of fresh ginger sliced thin
2 bay leaves
2 cups red wine
4 cups water
dry porcini mushrooms
2/3 cup creme fraiche
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Trim the oxtail of any extra fat and salt them well. Heat a large dutch oven over a medium flame, add a tablespoon of cooking oil and brown the oxtails on both sides. Remove the meat from the pan and pour out the remaining fat and oil.
Return the meat to the pan, add the onion, carrot, garlic, ginger, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, wine, and water. Toss salt and pepper in, cover and put into the oven for 3 to 4 hours.
The oxtails are done when the meat is falling off the bone. Transfer the oxtails to a plate and set aside to cool. Take the pan juices and pour through a sieve. Place the juices somewhere to cool so you can skim the fat off the top.
Once the oxtails have cooled you want to pick the meat off them using your hands…no other tool will allow you to separate the meat from the fat as well as your hands. There is some gristle too and you’ll want to remove that as well. Set the meat aside and reserve the oxtail bones for stock.
Skim the fat from the pan juices and then place them in a wide pan over a medium flame and reduce the juices. Add the dry porcini mushrooms. The flavor right now is probably very round…taste and then you might add some more wine for a bit more complexity. Once the reduction is complete turn the heat to low and taste for salt, add pepper, a pinch of thyme, and the creme fraiche. Stir and add the meat. Let it sit and heat up for a bit and then serve with noodles and a glass of red wine. I’m sure the leftovers will be fabulous too.