I was sitting in an ice cream parlor in downtown Aguadilla, near the Coast Guard base in Puerto Rico where we lived. A cow parallel parked and tied up at the curb in front of the store caught my eye. Even at 10 years old I had a pretty dented sense of humor, so the sight of a bovine acting like a Buick was pretty darn funny to me.
Suddenly, my amusement turned to confusion, and then horror.
A man walked up to my hilarious cow, pulled out the ubiquitous machete owned by every individual in Puerto Rico, and with one lightening stroke—cut off Bessie’s tail!
The beast let out an infuriated and pained moo as her assailant calmly walked away. I was stunned into queasy muteness. I didn’t finish my ice cream that day.
But if that machete-wielding bandit had seen the prices I’ve seen lately, I can almost understand his larcenous heart. Oxtail; which used to be a very inexpensive cut, has become trendy, with pricing to reflect that popularity.
I’ve long wanted to try cooking oxtail but am not willing to pay $8-10 dollars per pound for an experiment. Luckily, while in Kroger recently, I spied vacuum-packs that were “reduced for quick sale”. Purely for research purposes, I grabbed a bundle.
For the uninitiated, oxtail actually is a tail, and comes from oxen or more frequently, cattle. A package will consist of pieces which are about 1-2 inches thick, and because tails are tapered, they’ll range in width from roughly 3 inches across, to slightly less than an inch.
The finished product was literally falling off the bone and a revelation of tender unctuousness. It’s jam-packed full of collagen, which melts during cooking and produces a luxurious mouth feel.
Oxtails with mushrooms
2 pounds oxtails
Seasoned salt of your choice
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
When you bring home the oxtails, liberally dust them on all sides with seasoning salt before refrigerating.
Mushrooms and stock:
1 cup dried, assorted mushrooms
1 quart water
3-6 sprigs rosemary
Handful fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy
1 teaspoon salt
Mushrooms and stock
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 teaspoon porcini powder (optional)
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup flour (can use flour from dusting ox tails)
Fill a sauce pan with 1 quart of water. Drop in mushrooms. Bundle rosemary, thyme, pepper corns, and bay leaf into piece of cheesecloth (a bouquet garni). Drop into water. Add Worcestershire, soy and salt.
Boil for 3 minutes then turn off heat and let sit for 20-30 minutes to fully flavor the stock.
Drain using a fine mesh strainer. Cover and refrigerate stock. Chop mushrooms and put into separate container. Seal and place in fridge.
Preheat oven to 325.
Make roux-Melt butter and stir in flour. Cook on medium low until it turns peanut butter-colored. Take off heat and set aside.
Place a couple scoops of flour in a zip top bag. Drop in oxtails, and shake until completely coated.
In a large, heavy pot with a lid, melt butter with olive oil, and heat until is shimmers. Brown meat on all sides.
Remove oxtails and set aside.
Put mushrooms and onions into the pot and brown in the fat left from meat.
Sautee until lightly browned. Add tomato paste, garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Cook until garlic’s softened and tomato paste has darkened.
Pour in Sherry and cook on medium until it’s completely cooked off and no liquid remains.
Stir in stock, horseradish and porcini powder. When it boils, whisk in enough roux to bring to gravy thickness.
Put oxtails back in, cover and place into oven. Cook for 3 1/2 hours.
Serve tails and gravy over rice.
Makes 4 very hearty servings.
After my oxtail adventures, I know one thing for sure. From this day forward I shall haunt every meat department in Durham for future sales on this crazy, delicious cut of meat.
Next week: Round 2 of “Would you rather?” chef edition.
Thanks for your time.