Sunday, May 29, 2011

Oxtail Soup with Tomatoes, Love, Happiness, and World Peace

Few things in life are as comforting as a nice steaming bowl of oxtail soup and a meal with family. This recipe is a family favorite! It's top secret too. Don't tell anyone.

Oxtail Soup with Tomatoes, Love, Happiness, and World Peace
cooking oil or butter
4 large oxtail bones + 6 small oxtail bones
3/4 cup shaoxing wine
1 pound beef tendons + a stub of ginger
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
a few thin slices ginger
2 carrots, cut on a diagonal into 1-inch chunks
4 celery stalks, cut on a diagonal into 1-inch chunks
10ish medium sized ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf, 1 star anise, 1 rosemary sprig, 1 thyme sprig (optional)
6 plump cloves of fresh garlic
1 tsp sea salt
4 fingerling potatoes, cut on a bias into 1-inch chunks
Thai basil (optional)

1. Heat a large pot over medium high heat, add 1 Tbsp oil and heat until shimmering. Add oxtails and cover with lid for 2 minutes, until the meat is golden brown. Flip and continue until seared all around. Remove oxtails to a plate and add a splash of wine, scraping up the yum yums at the bottom of the pot.
2. In the meantime, heat another small pot of water and the tendons and ginger and touch of wine to a boil over high heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside the tendons.
3. Add a little more oil to the pot and toss in the onions and ginger. Cook over medium heat until onions are softened and smell delicious, 5-8 minutes. Add 3 celery stalks and 1 carrot, season lightly with salt, and continue to cook a few minutes until you smell the celery and carrots.
4. Add half of the tomatoes, the 1 tsp salt, and the herbs (if using). Add the oxtails and tendons. Add the rest of the tomatoes.
5. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to the very lowest, most pathetic setting to maintain a very shy simmer - you don't want to vigorously simmer because the meat will get tough. After 15 or 20 minutes, check to see if the tomatoes are breaking down and releasing their juices; mix the stew and smash the tomatoes a bit to help it along. If there is not enough liquid to cover all the bones by about 1/2 inch, do not add water! Just add two or three more tomatoes or beef broth if you have it on hand. The key is to maintain a bare simmer for 3 hours, or until the meat is just beginning to fall off the bone.
6. One and a half hours before dinner time, add the remaining carrots and taste the soup. Add more salt if needed. Skim surface fat if there's a lot of fat.
7. One hour before dinner time, add the rest of the celery and the potatoes. Add the garlic cloves 15 minutes later - they will become meltingly sweet!
8. Ten minutes before dinner, season the soup to taste with salt. Add the basil to the soup if using.
9. Remove basil and bay leaf. Call everyone to dinner and let people pick out their favorite veggies and oxtails and tendons from the pot. Garnish with chopped cilantro, dill, or scallions if desired; but honestly, the soup doesn't need any of that stuff.
- You may be tempted to use canned tomatoes. Don't! Just don't. They are sour. You can add them if you want, but keep in mind that you would be making "oxtail soup" and not the version with love, happiness, and world peace.
- Feel free to add some tomato paste if you really like tomatoes!
- Don't let the stew boil or the meat will get tough and stringy.
- Don't stew for much longer than 3 hours because the meat will get too tender and it will just fall apart; you want a little chew, but you want the gelatin to dissolve and make the soup thick and satiny.
- Don't add too much salt! The soup will reduce as it cooks, so it's better to undersalt the soup initially. It's really easy to add too much salt, so watch out!
- Don't worry if you can't finish this on the day of. The next day it tastes even better - not sure why.
- The quality of the tomatoes, carrots, celery, and garlic matters! Use ripe, fresh veggies from the Farmer's Market if possible.
- Boiling the tendons helps get rid of some of that stinky cow smell.
- Adding some of the veggies later ensures that they retain their bright color and don't dissolve into the stew; but adding some in the beginning is important for flavor.

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