I was less than happy with my last excursion into great British cuisine. Steak and Kidney pie sounded so good, but alas a major component was unavailable, the Kidney. If you missed this great adventure, you can read about here.

I had been sulking about it for days. As luck would have it my wife made a fundamental error in judgment the other day. She asked if I would like to go grocery shopping. Usually I decline the polite invite. But I was bored, I knew that there was something in the supermarket that would catch my attention. I was right!

While Jan was making all the big meat decisions I was looking at the less popular items. WOW I spotted Oxtail. I hovered over it for a minute or so, I knew I wanted it, but should I go for the big ones or the medium sized ones? I went for the medium size. Behind me I heard a voice “They have Oxtails”. The voice belonged to a very delightful older woman and we chatted for a couple of minutes about the joys of Oxtails.

There is nothing better than barley to go with Oxtails, so I picked up a bag and caught up with my wife. She was distracted about which Laundry Detergent to buy, so I snuck my goodies into the cart. It goes without saying, she busted me before we even made it to the check out. “And what exactly are those”?

Needless to say she was less than impressed. Odd really, she loves things like Gator or Crawfish, (I am sure that even though she would never admit it, she is partial to a good squirrel stew). We live in a Squirrel rich environment, I am sure that with a BB gun I could bag dinner a couple of times a week.

So, we get home, and the interrogation starts. There is no nice way to describe Oxtail. It is what it says. It is the tail of the animal. It is tough, and not recommended for use in Ceviche. Meat is a beast all on its own. There is a trade off of tenderness against flavor. Cuts like Filet Mignon command great price, but reality reveals that they come with no taste. I prefer meat that has taste. 

I head for the less choice cuts. Without doubt Oxtail is right up there. It certainly is not a dish that can be whipped up in 30 minutes. Oxtail is a work of art. It takes love and understanding, and the results are outstanding.

An agreement is reached, I can cook my Oxtails and she will find something more to her liking.

I mentioned that Oxtail was a little on the tough side. It is easy to explain. If you look at any diagram of a cow and what the various ‘cuts’ are, a picture emerges.

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The more active the cow bit is, the tougher and more flavorful the cut of meat is. One only has to watch cows for a few minutes to realize that the most active bit on the whole animal is the tail. It spends its life swatting fly’s and other pests from around its nether regions. So it seems reasonable that the tail is probably the best tasting bit, but the hardest to get along with in the kitchen.

The Crock Pot or Slow Cooker might well have been invented for Oxtail!

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This is pretty much the make and model that I like. It is very adaptable. When winter hits and the temperature drops to -40 you can put it on real low and sit on it. It makes a great bum warmer. I would however recommend using the low power setting.  The last thing you need is a trip to the Emergency Room and try to explain the nasty burn on your butt.Ok I am obviously joking. But these critters are a great addition to any kitchen.

The stew is simplicity itself, and unlike many other dishes, you can mostly use whatever stuff you can find sulking in your refrigerator.

I say that, but there are two absolute must haves. Pearl Barley and Worchester Sauce.

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While Pearl Barley may sound exotic, I have yet to find a supermarket that does not stock it. Head to the rice and bean aisle and hunt.

There are lots of recipes for Oxtail, and most start with rolling the Oxtail segments in seasoned flour and giving them the old hot frying pan and oil treatment. It is a good idea, but I opted to skip it. I was on somewhat thin ice with Jan over the whole adventure, and wanted to keep the kitchen damage to a minimum. Frying pans and I just never seem to get along well together. Jan has a theory that I have wanton destructive urge aimed at cookware! We possibly are the only family that has His and Hers sets of pans.

My pan:

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Her Pan:

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OK, Jan’s pan looks better than mine. But she spent $149.95, I just found mine.

So back to the plot.

I simply turned on the Slow Cooker and put in the Oxtail. Chopped up an onion, by chopping I mean,  I cut in half and cut each half into four and into the Cooker it went. I like garlic, so I smashed and cut up 4 cloves. I also threw in a bay leaf. Bay Leaf adds a unique flavor, but don’t eat it! A bay leaf in your mouth is about as much fun as flavoring your plate with a couple of squirts of Channel Number 5.

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Bay Leaf is wonderful, but make sure that you don’t get it on your plate.

It was time for some vegies. I headed for the dreaded refrigerator. Who knows what evil lurks in there?

Celery is always a favorite in Oxtail, so I grabbed two stalks. These I hacked into ½ inch pieces, including the leaf part. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using the foliage. Most people chop it off and dump it. I rarely do. There is nothing wrong with the leafs, just peoples perception.

Carrots are always a good choice, and lurking in the evil refrigerator I came across a bag of Baby Carrots, so I tossed a handful in.

A very traditional veg to add to Oxtail are Green Beans (Snap Beans). I just so happened that I still had some fresh locally grown ones left over from a culinary adventure earlier in the week. I shall digress. I like fresh Green Beans, I happened to be in the local Farmers Market and they were selling them dirt cheap. So I bought some. I however have a favorite method with Green Beans, they have to be ‘frenched’ to bring out the real taste. I didn’t consider this aspect at the time of purchase.

In the good old days every 99 cent potato peeler came with a ‘frencher’

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Easy to use and cheap! I decided that I would make do without the ‘frencher’ and do it the old way. A really sharp knife, and a large box of Bandaids. No Digit Damage occurred, but I decided to quit while I was ahead.

So, cut the beans into one inch bits and throw them in the pot.

You can add whatever else you like, Some people put potato or turnip, it is up to you.

By now the slow cooker will have warmed up, and the ingredients are hating life. It is time for liquids and seasoning.

You need a cup or so of water. But understand that water will be released from the vegies, so don’t over do it.

Likely by now you are also exhausted from the exertion of chopping stuff, so take a rest. Grab a nice cold beer, and pour half into the pot.

Even though Oxtail has great flavor it needs a little help with the vegies. Two Beef Bullion cubes will fix that. I like OXO, but any will work.

Next, a good dose of fresh ground pepper. At least a teaspoon.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and take a nap.

After a good nap, maybe 4 or five hours, it is time to investigate.

The juice will be thin, but taste it. The first issue is going to be salt. It will need some, I did not add it earlier because the Bullion cubes are laden with sodium, each brand is different.

The sauce also needs to thicken. Most Oxtail recipes call for a tomato component. My tomato’s are still green, small, and on the vine. But as I said earlier, you use what you have on hand. In the refrigerator I discovered a very small can of V8 Juice.

I opened it, tasted it, and made a snap decision. This combined with flour would be the perfect thickening agent. Two Tablespoons of flour in a coffee mug, a fork, and V8 created a wonderful (mostly lump free) solution.

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Pour it in, stir it around, and don’t worry about the lumps, they will sort themselves out.

Now is also the time for the other key ingredient. Head down to the basement area where you have your pretend bar and grab the bottle of Lee and Perrins that you use when making a Bloody Mary. Give the Oxtail a few hits of the nectar, and leave it be for another 4 or 5 hours.

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Oxtail is yummy, it is not hard to make. Time is the key, and make sure you have lots of it.

Simon Barrett

 

 

 

   

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