Ice is pelting my panes. Winter has finally descended upon us! To the mattresses, I say. When the going gets rough, the tough get cookin’!
In what turned out to be a timely issue, Bon Appetit’s February issue features hearty dishes – soups, stews and chowders. But, before I get to those recipes (Buffalo chicken mac & cheese!), I have to tell you about the January issue. No, I do not get paid for doing this… *sigh*
The January issue featured a series of recipes called “Butcher’s Secret Cuts.” Here’s the opener:
“Skip the filet mignon: Lesser-known humble cuts like shoulder, oxtail, and shanks pack big flavor. Meat master Bruce Aidells shows how to cook them right.”
Well, ma never believed in spending too much money on meat… and neither did she care for spending much time in the kitchen. These cuts of meat were perfect: cheap and worry-free. Most, like shanks, oxtails and shoulders, actually benefitted from neglect – the longer the braise the better. And, some, like chicken thighs were resilient – you could cook the heck out of them and they’d still be flavorful and moist.
Ma’s favorite was the oxtail. Together with shanks, they’ve become my favorite as well. Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve noticed the price of these “butcher’s cuts” (so-named because they’ve traditionally been “less-popular” cuts in the U.S. that were taken home by butchers) have steadily increased. When I was a child, our butcher would actually give oxtails and some other smaller off-cuts to my mother for free. Now you’ll find oxtails for no less than $4/lb.
You’ll also find butcher’s cuts on the menus of high end restaurants. Recently, I’ve had oxtails served with taccozette in a San Marzanon sauce at bluestem in Kansas City. Last year, I had hangar steak tartare at both The Avenues in Chicago and at WD~50 in New York. I’ll never forget the lamb shank osso buco at ame in San Francisco. And, although there wasn’t a recipe for cheeks in this magazine, I had wonderful versions of veal cheeks at both The French Laundry in Napa and Jean Georges in New York.
Although these once-neglected cuts have increased in price, you still won’t (shouldn’t) pay more for them than filets and other traditionally more valued cuts.
I’ve made Eastern European-style oxtail soup many times before (see my previous post “restoration hardware“). Yesterday, with the nasty weather, I decided to try the Asian lacquered version in Bon Appetit. It worked out wonderfully. The brown sugar really helped enliven the fragrant star anise. Personally, I would cut back on the sugar – maybe 2 tablespoons instead of 3, but the sauce was wonderful. Make sure you don’t reduce it too much – not because it’ll become too salty (especially if you use the full amount of sugar), but watch the sauce so that it doesn’t completely evaporate and char (I’m religious about making sure my sauces don’t burn).
Braised Oxtails with Star Anise and Chinese Greens
4 to 6 Servings
12 2-to 2 1/2-inch-thick oxtail pieces (about 4 1/2 lbs.), fat trimmed
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced
1/2 cup soy sauce
8 large garlic cloves, peeled
8 whole star anise
6 1/4-inch thick rounds fresh ginger
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Chinese brown bean sauce (not ground)
12 to 18 yu choy, baby choy sum, or baby bok choy
Chopped green onions
1. Arrange oxtaisl in single layer in heavy large pot. Add next 8 ingredients, then enough water to cover oxtails by 1/2 inch; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer until very tender, adding more water by 1/2 cupfuls as needed to keep oxtails covered, about 2 hours. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled at least 1 day and up to 3 days.
2. Spoon off and discard fat from sauce. Rewarm oxtails over low heat. Transfer oxtails to large plate. Boil sauce just until reduced enough to coat spoon thinly (do not reduce too much or sauce my become salty). Discard ginger slices and star anise.
3. Meanwhile, cook yu choy in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well.
4. Divide yu choy among shallow bowls. Top with oxtails and sauce and sprinkle with green onions.
* The magaizine recommends pairing this with a “2004 The Footbold Shiraz from South Australia ($19), with lovely cocoa and blackberry notes that go well with Chinese flavors.”