Saturday, July 23, 2011

Oxtail Soup...Again

Is this bowl finished? Are you crazy? That little morsel right there. Yes, it's making eyes at you. That's the secret hideout for the Yum Yums. Shhh they don't know you're here. You're supposed to pick it up and coax the juices out from deep within the bone. All the tomato-y beefy goodness...
The worst part about making and eating oxtail soup is getting to the bottom of the bowl. So this time...we'll turn back time!
Perfectly tender and fall-off-the-bone good. But not completely disintegrated. That's important - we don't want to eat the Gerber's version of oxtail soup. Wouldn't that be awesome if Gerber made oxtail soup in babyfood form? Those poor babies...I guess privileges do come with getting teeth.
Do you see the slight crusty brown coloration of the meat that is staring you in the face? That, my friend, is flavor. The result of a good sear before braising!
The biggest bones are the best. So many nooks and crannies and tendons and ligaments and deliciously meltingly tender collagen...sorry, too much anatomy huh. Excuse my enthusiasm; you had to be there to understand.
I don't think these photos are really in any logical order. But no matter. If that meat doesn't look tender, you can just leave right now. I need some private time with my soup anyway.
Do you know how much self control it took to take all those pictures? Thank you, I know I just outdo myself every time. And because I'm so nice...I'll even share with you the top secret recipe.

Before I do, I have a funny story. At the supermarket, while I was gawking at the oxtail, this nice elderly man (who didn't really speak English) and his granddaughter were next to me and he goes, "Oh, what is that?"
Me: "Oh, this is oxtail."
Him: "Huh?"
Me: "It's the tail, you know..."
Him: "Oh! The neck?"
Me: "No no, the tail, in the back..."
Him: "Ohhh."

I guess cows have gotten a little larger since his days.

Oxtail Soup...Again
This makes a relatively small serving. I would say it serves 3 people - with a maximum of two people who like to eat meat. The third person must be content with not having a large oxtail piece. Double it for larger company! The keys to this recipe are that the oxtail and veggies must be seasoned with a healthy single layer of sea salt, and the oxtail must be seared on high heat almost to the point of burning. Also, the tomatoes must be ripe and sweet or the broth will be too sour and watery; if you cut open your tomatoes and they are whitish instead of completely dark red inside, add tomato paste or sugar to the broth. Don't be scared by the 2 bulbs of garlic; they are imperative for flavor and the long braise just makes them meltingly sweet and mellow. The purple onion and garlic added in the beginning and end ensure complex flavor development throughout the braise as well as intense sweetness of shorter-cooked onion and garlic. The beauty of this recipe is its simplicity - no need to add beef stock, chicken bouillon, bouquet garni, flour, etc. There's a lot of oil in the end, so be sure to skim it off, or you will suffer a very unpleasant oily mouthfeel when you drink the soup. And trust me, you'll want second servings of the lovely beefy, sweetly concentrated tomato soup.

Oxtail - 2 HUGE bones, 3 medium ones, 1 tiny one
Sea salt or kosher salt
2 Tbsp oil
3/4 cup Shaoxing wine
2 bulbs of garlic, one bulb minced and the other bulb peeled
1 large carrot, sliced on a diagonal into 1-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 large fresh organic red onion, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 1-inch piece of fresh, good quality ginger, peeled and sliced
4 large ripe tomatoes, 1 ripe roma tomato, 8 ping-pong ball sized ripe sweet tomatoes
1 cup of purple sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks

Prepare the meat: Take it out of the fridge, dry very well with paper towel, and sprinkle one layer of sea salt on one side. Let it rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to take off the chill to promote better searing.

Sear the meat: Heat a medium soup pot over high heat 2 minutes until hot. Add 2Tbsp oil and swirl, heating until oil starts to ripple. Add meat in a single layer, salt side down. Sprinkle the other side with salt, put the lid on, and let it sear for 2-3 minutes until you get a very dark brown crust (This is the flavor concentration! Make sure to get that dark brown crust). Turn the meat and sear very well on all sides, replacing the lid each time, unless you want to smell like a piece of seared meat.

Deglaze the pan: Remove the perfectly seared meat and set on a clean plate. The pot will be very hot at this point, and the yum-yums at the bottom may be threatening to burn. Turn the heat down to medium and add the 3/4 cup wine all at once, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the yum yums. Pour this delicious liquid into a small heatproof bowl and set aside. Don't you dare let anything dangerous get near it.

Brown the veggies: Turn the heat once more up to high. Your pot should be pretty clean right now. Add 2 Tbsp more oil and swirl to coat. When oil is hot, add the finely chopped garlic, ginger, carrot, celery, and HALF of the onions to the pot. Sprinkle with an even layer of sea salt and toss the veggies to coat evenly with salt and oil. Cover with a lid and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes, until slightly softened.

Simmer down the tomatoes: Add the tomatoes and smash them with the back of a spatula, mixing them with the veggies in the pot. Replace the lid and continue cooking on high for 5-7 minutes until the mixture is boiling and the tomatoes are releasing liquid.

Replace the meat and simmer for a long time: Add oxtail back into the liquid, pushing them all the way to the bottom of the pot and covering every piece with the liquid. Turn the heat down to low, cover with a lid, and maintain a gentle but even simmer for 3 hours.

Add additional veggies and adjust salt: Toss in the remaining garlic cloves, onions, and sweet potato and push them into the soup. Taste the soup and add more salt if needed. Simmer for 45 more minutes.

Skim off the oil and swallow your saliva: Using an oil skimmer or a very flat wok spatula, take off the top layer of red orange oil to a wide shallow bowl. Be patient - this may take 20-30 spatula-fulls. Press down on the tomatoes to coax the oil to the top of the soup. Continue until you don't see too much red oil on top. Pour the oil mixture into a glass measure cup and gawk at the layer of fat that rises to the top. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow to cool at room temp before putting it in the fridge (use it to braise ox tendon later!). Help yourself to a big piece of oxtail and savor every second.

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