HERE’S another recipe that came to me from way out beyond the blue; I love it when this happens.
I caught a YouTube clip of an American actor/comedian, Aziz Ansari, telling his audience how he tries to ‘cure’ friends who are thinking of lapsing into vegetarianism (I make no judgement here, I’m merely passing on the information) by taking them out for dinner to a restaurant in Los Angeles called Animal.
It’s a very hip joint, serving the very best cutting-edge Californian cuisine, which takes influences from everywhere and puts them together in a very unselfconscious manner.
I love American chefs’ ways of unashamedly combining styles and flavours that, until recently, European cooks would have blanched at. There’s a healthy respect for the ingredients and techniques, but a brazenly cavalier attitude to the strict ‘rules’ about combinations.
The comedian mentioned one dish in particular, which immediately made me prick up my ears: oxtail poutine.
Now, I don’t think many of you will have heard of poutine, yet if you’re Canadian, especially a Québecois, it will set the juices flowing, for poutine is one of the most popular snack-foods in the eastern bits of that country.
Essentially it’s a plate or bowl of crisp French fries, covered with fresh curd cheese (a bit like a cross between ricotta and mozzarella) and finished off with a few ladlefuls of rich gravy (beef, onion, chicken, the recipes vary enormously).
The gravy melts the cheese into the chips and you get a lovely mouthful of crisp chips, molten cheese and silky sauce. It is one of my very favourite snacks, but I do have to watch how often I indulge – it’s most certainly not a health food!
The thought of bringing oxtail to the party made me more excited than I can say – it’s a genius move.
Oxtail is a much under-used meat, yet delivers so much deep beefy flavour and has a wonderfully tender stickiness to it. It’s a little fiddly, but so worth the effort.
Starting my research, I looked up the recipe online, and saw that Vinny and Jon, the chefs at Animal, had further embellished their gravy with the addition of a rich, creamy foie gras sauce. I nearly fainted. And, when I’d come round enough to use the phone, I called the butcher and asked about getting some oxtails and beef bones pronto. A lobe of foie gras was defrosted.
The resulting dish, four days in the making, was truly magnificent. It was an artery-busting, button-popping fiesta of flavour, so rich and tasty it almost defied description. I knew I had to let you in on the secret.
I began imagining this oxtail gravy with all manner of things; dollops of mash, spooned into fluffy baked potatoes, ladled over pasta, served with golden wedges of crunchy grilled polenta.
This article simply had to be written. But I did have to tone down the fireworks a little.
So here is a slightly modified version, omitting the foie gras sauce (as it’s not to everyone’s taste and it’s both hard to find and very expensive), but still delivering that rich, lip-smacking taste which is what we’re after with an oxtail dish.
The base sauce is a variation on the classic demi-glace, and is a terrific basic brown stock sauce to have in little pots in the freezer.
It has a million uses, and adds a rich, dense, meaty backbone to anything you stir it into. It’s a good one to have around for making the Sunday roast gravy, or if you want a few spoonfuls of rich, tasty jus to drizzle over a grilled steak or veal chop. It loves sausages, and will even take a drop of cream and some sliced mushrooms to make a very old-school but deeply satisfying sauce aux champignons, perfect on a pork chop. Just give your butcher a few days to sort out your oxtails, then get cracking. Aprons on!
For the base sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 carrot, chopped in small dice
1 onion, chopped in small dice
4 celery sticks, chopped in small dice chopped
300ml rich red wine
A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
2l beef, veal or chicken stock (jellied stockpots are a good shortcut)
For the oxtail:
2.5kg meaty oxtail pieces
20ml olive oil
200ml rich red wine
1 small carrot, roughly-chopped
1 small onion, roughly-chopped
4 celery sticks, roughly-chopped
a sprig of fresh thyme
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the chips:
800g – 1kg Estima or good frying potatoes
Oil for deep-frying
A few handfuls strong Cheddar cheese, grated
First, make up the demi-glace sauce. Sweat all the vegetables over medium heat in the oil in a large stock pan or deep casserole dish. You’re looking to get them nicely golden-coloured all over.
Deglaze the pan with the red wine and Madeira, and reduce by half. Add the thyme and stock, bring to a simmer, and reduce the mixture by two-thirds. Keep the pan for braising the oxtail.
At this point, you can freeze the sauce in small containers for future use. You’ll need about a litre of the sauce for this dish.
For the oxtail itself, preheat the oven to 140ºC. Season the oxtail pieces well. Sear them in the oil in a sauté pan until a deep golden brown on all sides.
After searing all the pieces, pour out the oil and deglaze the pan with the red wine.
Remove the seared oxtail pieces to the stock pan and add the vegetables and deglazing liquid. Pour in enough water to cover the oxtail about halfway. Cover the pan and cook in the preheated oven for 3 hours or until the oxtail is fork-tender.
Cool the oxtail to room temperature and carefully pick the meat from the bones. Discard the cooking liquid and vegetables.
Flake the oxtail into the base sauce and simmer until required. Now for the chips: Peel the potatoes, and cut into sticks about ½ cm wide. Plunge into cold water for 30 minutes. This will help to remove the starch. Drain, then dry the chips completely.
Blanch in oil at 140°C for five minutes. Drain the fries, then place on a tea towel on a tray and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. This helps dry out the flesh, resulting in a crispier chip.
To assemble the dish, finish the chips by frying at 180°C until crisp and golden. Warm the oxtail gravy gently in a pan, adding a little water if needed.
Help each person to a plate of fries, sprinkled with plenty of the Cheddar, and ladle the oxtail over the top. Needless to say, a good red wine is mandatory!