Edited to add: Want to hear me discuss this dish on the radio? Listen in to today’s Food for Thought on KLCC program by downloading the archived show here.
Warning: gruesome tail image below. Vegetarians avert your eyes. No, really. I’m not joking.
I’ve been doing so little cooking lately that I consider my kitchen time sacred. I miss playing with my food. Our freezer is still 3/4 full of the 1/4 grass-fed cow we bought from a local farmer last fall, thanks to my crushing schedule and my husband’s sudden decision not to eat much meat anymore after the order was made.
St. Patrick’s Day seemed like the perfect time to change all that. I had a package of oxtails, so thought I’d make a traditional Irish oxtail braise. Oxtails used to be a cheap cut of meat — a leftover part for the poor. But now that the wealthy have figured out that it’s rich and delicious, you see it on chi-chi restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic.
What better time to experiment with a wild green colcannon that wild foods expert Hank Shaw posted on his blog the other day? Colcannon is fancy mashed potatoes, usually made with spring onions and kale or cabbage, that the Irish serve with a pat of melty butter. Hank brilliantly realized this humble side dish would be enhanced with wild greens like cow parsnip or nettles.
As for me, I used the wild onions that spring up in the grass in March in Oregon, and some arugula that had gone feral in my garden.
If I were to change anything in his recipe, I’d blanch the greens first before sauteing them in butter alone, and I’d emphasize strongly that they should be chopped very finely. No one wants a tough tongue of limp arugula in their mashed potatoes. And I know from personal experience.
As for the oxtail, well, it’s a good thing I’m not squeamish, because they included the whole damn tail, not just the lovely meaty chunks up higher toward the business end. (One more chance to avert your eyes)
Holy snakes, St. Pat! And not cutting through the thing…that was just cruel. So into the soup bone bag in my freezer the wiggler went, and the meaty part became my braise.
When making any kind of tough, collagen-rich meat braise, you really don’t need a recipe, since they’re all basically the same. You can’t really mess up as long as you go low and slow. Preheat the oven to 300, then cut the meat in chunks, salt and pepper it, then sear it on all sides in vegetable oil or lard (I often save bacon fat for this task), then place it in a dutch oven. While the searing pan is still hot, sweat down chopped onions, carrots, celery and parsley, then add it to the meat in the dutch oven. Lacking a carrot and celery, I used parsnips, rutabagas, and cutting celery instead this time.) Add liquid and a bay leaf almost to cover the meat. I often use half red wine and half chicken stock, but beef stock is better. Cook for several hours, or until the meat falls off the bone. During cooking, taste for salt and pepper.
When it’s ready, remove it from the stock. You have a couple of choices, based on time. You can strain the juices and put them in the freezer until the fat rises to the top and you can remove it. You can scoop the fat off the top with a spoon and then strain. But either way, you’ll want to return the juices to the pan and cook them down and taste for seasoning. As I do this, I whisk a couple of teaspoons of flour into the reducing sauce to thicken it and add a bit more red wine to brighten up the flavors, but that’s not necessary. All you need to do is have a lovely, concentrated sauce to go with your braise.
And that’s it!
It’s even better the next day. I suggest turning the leftover colcannon into colcannon latkes. As James Joyce would say, contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality!