tail of ox

Although we've had quite a few last beautiful fall days, winter is definitely closing in on us. The gloves, hats and scarves are out and my cashmere clothes are getting some good use! That being said, it's about that time of year to make some hearty goodness.  I was thinking osso bucco (which will definitely be making an appearance soon!), but when I saw the beautiful pieces of oxtail that my butcher had, I obviously couldn't resist.  That and, I've never cooked oxtail before, and we all know how I like nothing more than to cook something new! In it to win it. Unbeknown to me, oxtail is actually classified as offal (who knew?).  As with all offal, the original culinary use came out of necessity to utilize all parts of the animal, and oxtail was a cut generally given to "lower classes".  Like so many ingredients, what once was a poor man's food is now becoming one of those buzz ingredients - you can see it on the menu of tons of hip restaurants these days.  Oxtail is a mainstay in cuisines worldwide - Jamaican, Korean, African, you name it! That being said, it's truly not too hard to come by.  I utilized some standard stewing knowledge to make the dish, and it definitely worked out in the end.

Braised Oxtail with Minted Polenta
2.5 to 3 lbs. oxtail - try to get the larger pieces
Flour, for dredging - I use Wondra
4 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 32-oz can crushed red tomatoes
2 cups red wine
Fresh ground black pepper
Small mint leaves, or chopped mint, for garnish
Lemon zest, for garnish
Minted Polenta, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350F.  To start, coat each oxtail with flour.  Heat olive oil in a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Once the oil is simmering, add in each oxtail, being sure not to crowd the pieces, and brown evenly on both sides - about 12 minutes total.  This can be done in more than one batch.  Set pieces aside.

In the same pot, add in the garlic, onion, carrot and celery and cook until golden brown.  Next, add in the can of tomatoes and stir to combine, breaking up any larger pieces of tomato.  Let cook for about two minutes, and add in the red wine.  SIDE NOTE! I did also add in about 1/2 cup of a dark porter beer - a nod to Rene Redzepi - to add a little bitterness.  Not a necessity, but if you have some lying around, give it a splash! Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, then nestle in each of the oxtail pieces - they should be covered by the sauce.  Cover and place in the oven.  Cook for about 3 hours, until the meat is very tender.  Carefully take the pot out of the oven, and place it on the stove.  Remove the oxtail pieces from the sauce, and keep the sauce warm over medium heat.   Remove the meat from each of the bones, then stir it back into the sauce.  Oxtail is pretty fatty, so you can get rid of any big fatty pieces as well.  Stir to combine and taste for seasoning.   Serve hot over minted polenta.  Finish the plate with a scattering of mint and lemon zest over top.

Minted Polenta
2 cups polenta
6 cups water
3/4 cup mint, minced
2 t salt
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Optional: 2 T butter

In a large saucepan, bring the water, salt, and mint to a boil.  Pouring in a slow stream, stir or whisk in the polenta.  Allow to cook for about 25-30 (unless you are using instant!) minutes until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender. Stir in the parmesan and butter (if you're using it) until melted.  Serve warm.

This dish turned out fabulous! The meat was super tender and flavorful from the braising.  As stated before, oxtail is a rather fatty cut, so it made for a a phenomenally unctuous sauce.  All of the flavors came together wonderfully, and the mint and lemon definitely brightened up the dish as a whole.  The minted polenta (especially since it was white, not yellow cornmeal) added a nice lightness to the dish and also helped to sop up the delicious sauce.  Food algebra: poor man's oxtail + poor man's polenta = food fit for a king! As usual, everybody's plates were wiped clean at the end of the meal!  As another side note, almost all stews are better the second day.  Refrigerating them overnight allows the flavors to really meld together, and it's easy to just reheat on the stove.  So, if you're planning ahead, you can definitely make this one day before! If you do just cook it and eat it the same day, you at least know you are in line for some epic leftovers!


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