Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What do the Phillippines and New Orleans have in common? You guessed it: great oxtail stews!

I like meat. I did go through a phase when I didn't eat red meat, but that passed. I have had my share of expensive, high-powered cuts of beef and lamb. But I must confess that nothing moves me quite the way that more humble cuts of meat do. Meats that are tough and require stewing for long periods of time are actually my favorites! They hold seasonings well and are absolutely delicious if made properly.

Take oxtails, for example. Yes -- the tail of the ox! Oxtails are bony and tough and require patience and care. But the finished product can be quite spectacular. They are one of my favorite cuts of meat. And I'm not alone, either. No less a personage than the great Nelson Mandela names oxtails as his favorite meal. So there!

I should add that there is a personal connection to oxtails. You guessed it - my mother used to make oxtail stew. I vaguely remember when she made it once and I asked what it was. She said, "I made it for your father and me. You won't like it." Obviously, she didn't want to share. I was determined, though. I remember rich, reddish-brown stew cooking in her sturdy reddish-orange Dutch oven. The fragrance of bay leaf-ladened stew filled up the entire house. I was not going to be deprived! The stew was very good. Mommy didn't make oxtail stew often, but I never forgot it. I wish that I had written down her recipe, which came from her head, as did many of the delightful dishes she prepared.

There are two recipes that I make quite frequently. One is Emeril Lagasse's New Orleans-style of oxtail stew, which my mother used to make frequently when we were children. And -- as you'll find out in future blogs -- I love the various cuisines of Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, etc.). I found a fabulous recipe for oxtail stew that hails from the Philippines. It's got a delightful name -- Kari-Kari.

In both recipes, the oxtails are seasoned and browned in oil. Then other ingredients (vegetables, additional seasonings, liquid, etc.) are added and the oxtails are left to simmer over low heat until they are tender. They're served over rice, and in the case of Emeril's excellent recipe, cheddar cheese biscuits.

When I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa last July and again this past April, I made my way to the V & A Waterfront. While it catered to tourists, I was hopeful of finding a restaurant that cooked some semblance of local cuisine. Karibu did not disappoint! I ordered several stews there, including a delicious lamb stew made with curry and raisins, and a very good oxtail stew served over rice.

To me, oxtail stew is comfort food. It's hearty and sticks to your ribs. And every good ingredient that you put in the stew is absorbed by all that slow cooking. Can you beat that? I think not.

I add cubed potatoes to Emeril's recipe during the last 15 minutes or so of cooking. I like lots of stuff in my stew! And I make the biscuits often. They're great with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Enjoy these two recipes!

Emeril Lagasse's Oxtail Stew

* 1 tablespoon Essence, recipe follows
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 4 pounds oxtails
* 10 bacon slices, chopped
* 2 large onions, chopped
* 2 large carrots, chopped
* 2 large celery stalks, chopped
* 6 garlic cloves, chopped
* 1/4 cup tomato paste
* 4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
* 1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine
* 1 (28-ounce) can chopped Italian tomatoes
* 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can beef broth
* Cheddar Drop Biscuits, recipe follows


In a zip-top bag, combine Essence, flour, and salt and pepper. Add oxtails, seal bag, and shake to coat. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add bacon and cook until fat is rendered. Remove bacon, using slotted spoon and reserve. Increase heat to high. Add oxtails and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer oxtails to plate.

Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic to Dutch oven, reduce heat to medium and cook until tender. Mix in tomato paste and thyme. Add wine and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Boil until liquid is reduced by half. Add tomatoes and broth. Return oxtails with any juices and bacon to Dutch oven. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Uncover and simmer until liquid is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Serve with homemade Cheddar Drop Biscuits.

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup

Recipe from "New New Orleans Cooking", by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch, published by William Morrow, 1993.

Cheddar Drop Biscuits:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon solid vegetable shortening

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

1 cup shredded Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a pie tin.

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. The dough will be slightly sticky.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and drop into the pie tin. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve right from the oven.

Yield: 4 biscuits

Kari-Kari (braised oxtails in peanut sauce)

3.5 - 4 lb. oxtails, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon salt
1 tsp ground pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon annatto seeds (You can find these in a Caribbean market. Goya makes them, too.)
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, quartered
6-8 cups water (I always want more flavor, so I use beef broth instead.)
1/3 cup long-grain white rice
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
3/4 lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 large Asian eggplant, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
fish sauce to taste

Sprinkle the oxtails with the salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add a few oxtail pieces and brown well on all sides, turning frequently Transfer to oxtails to a plate and repeat with the remaining oxtails. Pour off the oil from teh pot and discard. Set the pot aside.

Meanwhile, in a small frying pan over medium-low heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil with the annatto seeds. Fry the seeds until the oil takes on a red stain, just a few minutes. Remove from the heat and let the oil cool. With the back of a spoon, press the seeds and allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve held over the reserved pot Discard the contents of the sieve.

Place the pot with the oil over medium heat, add the onions and garlic, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Return the oxtails to the pot and add the water (or beef broth) just to cover the meat. Bring to a oil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium, cover partially, and cook at a gentle boil until the oxtails are nearly tender, about 2 hours.

In small, dry frying pan over medium heat, toast the rice, shaking the pan and stirring often, until the rice turns golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Pour the rice into a blender, process to a fine powder, and transfer to a bowl; set aside. Add the peanuts to the blender and process to finely mince.

When the oxtails are nearly done, uncover and add the ground rice and peanuts, the green beans, and the eggplant. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender, the vegetables are fully cooked, and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. The meat is done when it pulls away from the bone easily.

Transfer the oxtails and vegetables to as serving dish and serve. Pass the fish sauce at the table.

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