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Friday, February 18, 2011

Asian Braised Oxtail

Who doesn't love a good braise?  This is especially true in these cold February months.  OK, it's not too cold in Socal, but who needs excuses to make a wonderful braise?  I don't.  Braising is very popular with dishes such as French braised short ribs where you'd start with searing some short ribs, throw in your mire poix, and braising it in either stock or red wine.  This dish is very similar.  I've got a tough, sinewy, but very beefy and flavorful cut in the ox tail.  Braising it will break down those connective tissues and leave you with an amazing beef flavor.  I'm going to throw in some aromatics and simmer it in some liquid.  I did a similar braise like this with a friend before, but that was many years ago.  I did it again and I'm going to let you know what went well.  I had a few things that I plan to add next time I make this dish.

What is ox tail?  Well, it's not oxen tail.  Well, the ones you find in supermarkets aren't.  Hopefully.  They're just cow tails.  They're actually a bit pricier now than just a decade ago.  They used to be pretty much discarded and only used for stock in America.  It makes wonderful stock because of it's potent beefiness and its gelatinous properties.  It's really nice that you can taste this in the braise as well.  Of course outside countries used them for other things.  Italians have a dish that call for oxtail specifically.  The Asian countries use this for oxtail soup.  But now, oxtail is coming into fashion.  Yes, the culinary world has trends too.  So if you haven't tried oxtail, go grab some!  I bought some fresh oxtail for under $4/lb at Costco.

Now, what do you need as far as ingredients?  Well, for the Asian aroma I used some ingredients that you'll find common in Asian kitchens.  If you don't cook Asian cuisine very often, you'll probably need to head to an Asian market.  Some key ingredients that you'll need are star anise and lemongrass.  These are essential ingredients to this dish that gives it a wonderful Asian smell.  And if you cook a lot of Southeast Asian cuisines, you'll notice the pot smelling like another very aromatic Asian food, pho.  You'll find the star anise to remind you of pho restaurants, but many other additions such as the ginger, onion and simply the smell of the beef will too.  That's where I stole most of the spices from and you'll see that the spices do work amazingly well with this dish.

Now, to make this dish, the only special equipment you'll need is a large pot with a tight fitting lid.  An enameled dutch oven works perfectly.  Having a cheesecloth to hold spices is optional.

And the ingredients you'll need are:
Serves (6-8)
4-5 lbs oxtail, trimmed of excess fat
1/2 cup sweet rice wine or mirin
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 cups beef broth
1 tbs black bean sauce
2-3 star anise, depending on size and freshness
2 cloves
3-4 inch knob of ginger, sliced thin
1/2 head of garlic
1/2 tbps ground cinnamon or 1 whole stick
3 tbs ground lemongrass or 4 stalks of bruised
3-6 thai chilis, sliced thin, depending on taste and reserve one for garnish if desired

1 bunch green onions, all but two sliced into three inch slices, the rest sliced thin for garnish
1 lime

Optional accompaniments:
12 quail eggs
1 lb tripe cleaned and cut into two inch pieces
16 shiitake mushrooms rehydrated if using dry


1) Salt and pepper trimmed oxtail generously on all sides.  You don't have to worry too much about trimming all the fat off the oxtail because we are going to get rid of a lot of it later.  But you do want a good sear on that meat and not the fat.

2) Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Oil up your preheated dutch oven with vegetable or canola oil.  Olive oil will have too low a smoke point for this and it will burn, turning it rancid and bitter.  You do not want that and I'm sure your diners will not either.  Be sure to try to sear all sides of the meat and have it browned like the picture below.  The browning will give the meat a texture contrast so that everything does not taste... soft.  If you skip the searing, your plate will be a bit boring.
3) Make sure you do not overcrowd the pan and work in batches if necessary.  Once meat has been removed add the mirin into the pot to deglaze it.  Scrape fond off with wooden spoon.  Once the mirin has been reduced by about half or two thirds, add in the aromatics.  This means the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, green onion, and chili.  Stir for one minute or until liquid has almost fully dissolved to allow the heat to bring out the aroma.

4)  Add in the wet ingredients.  This includes the beef broth, soy sauce, and black bean sauce.

5) Add oxtail and all the juices back into pot.  If using tripe add at this time.  Add water to almost cover the meat.  Finally, add zest of one lime over oxtails.  Bring back to a boil and clover lid.  Place pot into preheated oven for 1.5 hrs.

6) If using quail egg, place cold quail eggs into cold water to hard boil.  Bring water to a boil, and let gently boil for 2 minutes.  Turn off heat.  When cool enough to handle, peel eggs to add to the pot.  During this step, it was late at night and I forgot to add the quail eggs at this time.  Major fail by me.

7) After 1.5 hrs of heating in the oven, add prepared quail eggs and shiitake mushrooms if using and turn over the oxtail.  The meat should look very tender now, but it's not quite ready.  Be patient.

8) After a total of 3 hrs in the oven, the oxtail is technically ready to be served.  If you are in a hurry, skip steps 9-10.  You'll still want to try to remove the excess fat though.

9) Let pot cool to room temperature and place pot in the fridge overnight.  This serves two purposes.  Firstly, it will give it more time to infuse even more flavor into the meat and the braising liquid.  Secondly, and more importantly for me, it congeals the fat so we can easily remove it the next day.

10) After the night of dreaming about oxtail, you are almost complete!  Preheat oven to 250 degrees and remove pot from fridge.  Scoop off the excess fat that congealed on the top layer and reheat the pot in preheated oven.

11) I like my sauce thin so I serve immediately over brown rice and I garnish it with sliced green onions and thai chilis.  If you like your sauce a bit thicker, you'll want to remove the oxtail from the pot and reduce the sauce before serving.  Either way is amazing.

I've changed my recipe to what I will be doing in the future.  Some things I messed up on was forgetting completely to add the shiitake mushrooms.  Like I said, I also forgot to add the eggs during the cooking process.  This resulted in blander eggs.  As you can see, my egg whites were... white.  When you put it in during the cooking process it will turn brown and take on some of the flavor of the braising liquid.  Simple osmosis.  Either way, it turned out great.

I know this recipe comes with a lot of steps.  It also takes a lot of time.  But honestly, most of the time is waiting (sometimes this is the hardest part, I know).  But it really is worth it.  I'm surprised this is my first braising recipe, I'll definitely be sure to add more in the future.  But anyway, let me know what you guys think of the recipe.  Subscribe, bookmark, do the whole shabang.  Enjoy!