When it’s cold outside, one wants nothing more than a warm bowl of fortification. I find my strength in hearty soups and stews. One of my childhood favorites is oxtail soup. There are a bazillion ways to prepare oxtails.
The French braise the bone-on-meat in red wine until the meat falls off the bone and is enrobed in a rich dark burgandy lacquer. The effect is similar to braised veal cheeks – a technique that the Chinese also do very well – which was the inspiration for a fine dish I had earlier this year at Jean Georges.
Eastern Europeans often will simply make a broth-based soup with oxtails stewed with all the usual poor man’s vegetables: potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, celery and onions. It’s a simple process, requiring little to no attention – which suited me just fine for last night.
A good oxtail soup of this latter version should be served hot. It’s a very simple affair that shouldn’t be muddled with too many herbs or other flavors. The soup should be full of braised cabbage and chunks of other hearty vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots and celery and should be too greasy (skimming for fat is a must). I like to add tomatoes for both colour and a delightful tangy sweetness. The meat should be braised so that it’s barely clinging to the cog-like bones by a few wonderfully gelatinous tendons.
There’s really no exact science:
1. Trim your oxtails of as much fat as possible.
2. In a hot dutch oven (or stock pot), sear the oxtails. Work in batches, if necessary. Remove from seared oxtails to a plate.
3. Saute some onions and roughly chopped tomatoes (or canned stewed tomatoes work well) with minced garlic in some oil in a dutch oven. When they have just begun to soften, return the oxtails and any juice to the pot along with the onions and garlic. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
4. Pour enough water to cover the oxtails by three times. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 2 hours. Add water if necessary.
5. Roughly chop cabbage, celery and potatoes (or any other root vegetable like turnips or carrots) in amounts desired. Add to the simmering stock and simmer for another hour.
6. Skim as much fat as possible and serve immediately with crusty bread. If you want to go fancy, chop up some chives or parsley and garnish. For an Asian bent – throw in some ginger during the braising process and use soy sauce instead of salt. Garnish with cilantro.