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Friday, May 10, 2013

Experience with Oxtails

Oxtails are one of those cuts that really need a lot of patience. The meat is very tough because it gets a lot of use (watch cattle - they swish their tails all the time) and there is tons of connective tissue holding it all together. That means you will be cooking them for a long, long time.

I tried cooking them in my slow cooker, which I guess would work if you cooked them long enough. I tried about 8 hours. Definitely NOT long enough. Next time, I'll try overnight and through the day.

Why bother with oxtails? They taste so very good, especially when given the Chinese treatment. I adore star anise which is kind of odd since I hate licorice. Some things are unknowable. :-)

Chinese Braised Oxtails

Start with about 1 ½ pounds of oxtails. This is enough to feed 6 if you don't expect to get a lot of meat. The oxtails give up their collagen, making for a very rich broth. So high in collagen, in fact, that the sauce gels when it is chilled. This is good stuff and makes are a delicious sauce.

Place the oxtails in a dutch oven. Add 5 whole star anise pods, 1 4" stick of cinnamon, about a dozen whole black peppercorns, 3 Tablespoons dark or black soy sauce (these are thicker and have some molasses or sugar added), and 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Stir in enough water to nearly cover the oxtails. Heat over medium heat until it starts to boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, covering partially. Cook for a very long time, like 4 hours until tender. You can't really overcook them. Check the water level and add additional water if most of it cooks off.

You can serve the oxtails whole but I like to remove most of the meat so that it becomes part of the sauce. This is a rather time-consuming process, however. First, take all the oxtails out of the sauce and allow them to cool on a sheet pan until you can handle them.  Pick as much of the meat off the bones as you can and add it back to the sauce. While the oxtails are cooling, strain out the star anise, peppercorns, and cinnamon, then crank up the heat on the sauce. You can reduce it as much as you like, until is quite syrupy (again, have patience). When it starts to get thick, reduce the heat so that it doesn't burn. Adjust the salt after you have reduced it. Add the bones back too because if you love oxtails, you'll want to suck all the goodness off of them. And the sauce adds lots of extra goodness.

The meat and sauce only improve if you chill it all and then reheat it. Great served over noodles.