I adore oxtail; it’s rich, meaty and flavorful, just like any meat is that is close to the bone.
I’m also pretty certain that oxtail is really bull tail, which doesn’t sound near as good, but that’s just a guess. I mean, really, how many oxen have you seen lately?
We made a marvelous discovery on Saturday: the Essex St. Market. I remember going there about 100 years ago, and it was dirty and a little bit scary. Now it’s the perfect mix of old and new, there are 2 great cheese guys, vegetables, fishmongers, a voodoo religious guy and Jeffrey’s Meat who looks to be a great new source of meat for me. When I asked for oxtail, the butcher handed me the whole tail, skinned but whole. Knowing that his knives are better than mine, I had him cut it up into medium size pieces, which was a good move on my part!
I think I was so happy to find this butcher because I’d just lost my local butcher, Dom’s on Lafayette St. When I first started going there, it was the two brothers, one crankier and curmudgeonlier than the next, but they were excellent butchers. When the older brother died, the younger brother brought in some Chinese butchers and they were good too. When I walked by on Saturday, they were gone, the store is shut down and I was broken hearted as yet another old time butcher had vanished. I’ve said it before, but when you find a good butcher, kiss him, hold him and treasure him (or her as the case may be…our butcher in Montone is a woman…her husband spends far more time flirting than he does with his knives).
Now, without further ado, here is an easy recipe for oxtail braised in red wine.
1 oxtail, cut into medium size pieces
2 stalks of celery
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
Fennel seed (1/4 tsp, ground), 4-5 crushed juniper berries, 1 crumpled bay leaf and ½ tsp pink peppercorns if you have some around
Dust the oxtail pieces in some flour, salt and pepper.
Sear the pieces in a pan with olive oil and arrange the pieces in an ovenproof casserole that has a lid. Ideally you want a casserole where you can lay each piece flat on the bottom of the casserole, not in layers.
Roughly chop the carrots, celery and onion. Don’t stress over the chopping, but don’t leave the pieces too big. Sweat the vegetables in the same pan that you used for the oxtail, adding a little more olive oil.
When everyone is soft and relaxed in the pot, add the garlic and a bit of salt and pepper and the other spices.
Place the vegetables and spices on top of the oxtail pieces, deglaze the sauté pan with red wine and pour that over everything, adding more wine until the oxtail pieces are covered.
Cover the casserole and place in the cold oven, turn oven to 250 degrees and let braise for at least 3 hours. Don’t peek, and don’t remove the cover until you are ready to serve.
Before serving, remove the meat and keep warm. Puree the braise juices and the vegetables into a thick, rich sauce which is then added back on top of the meat.
Last night we served it with slivered toasted almonds on top (you could even add almonds to the braise sauce). Or you could add some color and brightness by finely chopping some parsley and orange peel and sprinkling that on top.
I served it on a bed of cous cous, but polenta would be delicious and so would rice. What ever tickles your fancy. This is good food for a winter evening and the house will smell delicious all afternoon.