Monday, March 16, 2009

Oxtail Rioja

The original goal in this diet was to cook French all the time, really dive in and learn French cooking while losing weight. It took about a week before we started missing variety, spices and Indian food so we had to edit our weekly menus to include more things we already love. This has made us both much happier, after all it was our love of very very spicy food that was one the the things that brought the fella and I together in the first place. On our first date he made a chickpea vindaloo and on our second I made a Thai coconut shrimp dish that was so spicy we were crying but refused to stop eating it.

His passion for food (and life in general) made me fall in love with him so I wasn't about to ruin that by tossing our culinary love affair into disarray on a regimen of food seasoned only in heavy cream and garlic. We settled on a nice middle ground of doing serious French cooking just 2 or 3 times a week and for special occasions so we don't burn out or die from lack of curry.

Last night was a French cooking evening and though we're almost a month in to this project it's the first time I actually felt like we had an authentic French experience. We made Oxtail Rioja which had all the important aspects of French cooking; extremely long cooking time, lots of wine, and odd cuts of meat. Aside from a couple organ meats I might try with a great recipe and lots of people to help me eat it, oxtails are about as weird as my meat eating habits extend. Sweetbreads will not make an appearance in my cooking.

This all starts at 5PM when went shopping for wine. I've tried all the affordable riojas at the store I work in so we were at the local warehouse grocery store and their equally large liquor department. There were too many choices so I pointed at four $11 to $15 bottles I've never had before and told the fella to choose. I'm proud of his rapidly developing love of wine so I trust him to chose a good one. He picked the Marqueas de Caceres 2005 Crianza Rioja which is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Graciano grapes. And I grabbed a bottle of El Coto Rioja (which we love and call the reindeer wine) because it was cheap and I knew it was good. We ended up needing both bottles so I was glad we had the forethought to get both.

5:30 I start following Boulod's intensive instructions for chopping all the vegetables and begin looking side long at the very ugly oxtails, wondering if this was my best idea. Then I start pan frying the meat, the smell is heavenly, I regain my confidence. However it is now 6:30 and we're still cooking veggies and just barely getting the wine reduced. Eating at 8 is now looking like 9:30 given the 3 hours cooking time.

We eat a spinach salad while surrounded by the amazing smell of oxtails soaked in red wine and homemade chicken broth. Then we eat some cheese and turkey while starting in on the wine, we're starving. The El Coto went into the broth as it turned out to be the lighter bodied less sweet wine we bought. I would most simply describe it as a spicy Pinot Noir. It's one of my favorite wines I keep going back to time and again, the gloriously ridiculous deer on the bottle doesn't hurt either. We decanted the Marqueas de Caceres as it was a super tight kick in the back of the throat right out of the bottle. With some rest it was a powerhouse of fruit, with the perfect mix of spice and tannins. In the midst of a great hunger and wine induced fugue state it began to taste exactly like a ripe plum rolled in cloves. In a word...yummy.

During the 3 hours of cooking I spent my time writing and sitting near the stew, periodically skimming the increasingly disgusting layer of grease that was forming at the top of the pot. By the end I had to dump the bowl of yuck three times and the stew was still very greasy. This was not my favorite thing I've ever done.

At 10 the fella and I swooped into the kitchen and looked at the ugly pot of meat and wine we had been anxiously sipping wine and waiting for seemingly forever. It was an experience. It is not something you want to eat in front of someone unless you've been living together for two years as it is a massive cartilage nibbling mess. It was very French.

The meat itself was very good and extremely tender but I wish I would have trimmed the fat and gristle off before cooking because this really was very greasy stew. However the vegetables were odd and overly soft. I think using cubanelle peppers was a mistake, the flavor wasn't right and they never quite agree with my stomach, however I had no idea how else to translate “green frying peppers” from the maddening recipe into reality. The fella really loved this recipe regardless of how late we ate, then again he is a much bigger red meat fan than I am. It just means more left overs for him.

We have plans to try to make a crock pot version of this, learning from our mistakes and refusing to spend that much time cooking stew again. That is after a good amount of time has gone by because at the moment I've had it with the word oxtail and still recovering from an entire evening devoted to cooking.

I'm having a chicken breast and an orange for lunch.

Oxtail Rioja

4 pounds oxtails, cut into 2 inch-thick pieces (I used 2 pounds and felt it was too much meat)
1 tablespoon paprika
salt, pepper and flour for dredging (I cut out flour)
1/4 cup oil

¼ pound Serrano ham, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 head garlic, cut crosswise in half
1 large onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2 inch dice (I used 2 stalks of celery)
1 pound green frying peppers, cored, deveined and diced (I used cubanelles)

1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound tomatoes, cored and each cut into 8 pieces

1 bay leaf
2 sprigs Italian parsley (I just used some dried parsley)
1 sprig thyme
cheese cloth or paper tea bag for loose leaf tea

4 cups rioja/tempranillo wine (a full bottle and 1 cup of a second bottle)
4 cups chicken stock

1/ 2 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted (I was so hungry I forgot this part)

Season the oxtails on all sides with paprika, salt and pepper then dredge in flour (I didn't use flour and they turned out just fine.) Pour oil into large saute pan over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add the oxtails (you might have to do them in batches) and cook, turning to brown all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the oxtails to a plate and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from pan.

Switch to a large flat bottomed soup pot still over medium high heat and warm the reserved 2 tablespoons of oxtail fat. Add ham, garlic, onion, carrot (or celery), and green peppers to the pan and cook, stirring frequently until vegetables are soft but not colored, about 15 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and tomatoes. Create the herb sachet by placing the bay leaf, parsley and thyme in cheese cloth or a tea bag, then toss in the pot.

Return oxtails to the pot along with the wine. Bring wine to a boil, skimming the foam off that rises to the surface and cook until the wine is reduced by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil once again, then adjust heat so that the liquid is barely simmering. Cover the pan and cook at a simmer for 2 ½ hours. During thus time you must periodically skim off the foam and grease solids that bubble to the top of the broth.

Remove the cover and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened. This is also your last chance to remove the remaining grease before serving. The sauce won't be very thick but it should coat the oxtails.

Discard the garlic and herb sachet. Serve oxtails in bowls with generous serving of the vegetables ans sauce to cover them. Sprinkle with almonds just before eating.

Original recipe from Cafe Boulud Cookbook.

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