Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More Fun with Oxtails and Rich Gravy

"Does she still make that incredible oxtail gravy?!" This question came from friends that nearly 15 years ago had moved to Alaska. I thought that was a pretty nice compliment. Primal Sauces such as this one implant a culinary memory that becomes permanently etched in our psyches. The extremely rich sauce needs a robust pasta so do not put it on thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta.

If the idea of oxtails grosses you out, no worries. Just cook up some Sicilian or Hot Italian sausages instead. The meat needs to be particularly well flavored or it will become lost in the sauce which is not at all mindful. Mangia!

Oxtail Gravy for Pasta, but not Wimpy Pasta, Only Nice Substantial Pasta
nutrition facts

raw ox tail
Ingredients with special notes and all that stuff:

2 T pure olive oil
1 nice sized onion, chopped up nice and fine to hide, from my onion hating son, the fact that an entire onion is in there
2 full heads of garlic, separated, roasted*, and peeled - do not chop the cloves they must be left whole
2 pounds or so of oxtails**
3 pounds or more tomatoes, squished by hand*** (more fun! very mindful) or chopped or from a can
6 oz (or more if necessary) of good imported Italian tomato paste
1 cup of beef stock
1 cup of red wine - now in a perfect world, you have a bottle of port on hand, because let me tell you there is absolutely nothing better in this dish than port. Use red wine if you are subbing sausage for oxtails.
1 Tablespoon or so of brown sugar (more if the tomatoes are particularly acidic. Use less or none at all depending on your tomato source. With homegrown fresh tomatoes, sugar is usually not necessary)
1 bay leaf
2 t dried basil or a whole mess of fresh basil grabbed by the handful rough chopped and dumped in until the flavor and aroma is just right
I do not use salt. If you do, don't tell me.
1/2 t or so of fresh ground black pepper
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried crushed rosemary
if you are a true fan of garlic, add a few teaspoons of powdered garlic too. I do and it's delicious.
1 pound of your fave sturdy pasta such as ziti or those lovely little wagon wheels cooked al dente

Methods of various sorts and even more notations as I think of them:

Heat the oil in a nice big heavy pot over medium-high heat. Brown the oxtails well on all sides - best done in small batches so they don't crowd and "steam" instead of brown. The brown adds flavor to the sauce. Seamed meat does not add much extra oomph. Set aside on a plate for a moment while you proceed.

If there's too much oil in the pan, drain some off and if you drained too much then stick in another tablespoon or so of pure olive oil - oh, do not use extra virgin because the smoke point is too low, just regular pure olive oil. Heat the new oil or reheat the old if you left some in there, and add the onion. Saute over medium heat until they start to brown. No need to caramelize them, just brown them.

the sauce with whole wheat penne pasta
Put the oxtail back in the pot. Add the crushed tomatoes (do crush them with your hands, so much fun!). Most people seem to like to use canned tomatoes which means they will already be peeled. If you are using real live actual unprocessed tomatoes, you may want to peel them. I do not peel. I think mainly people peel them because the floating tomato skin bits may not be particularly attractive. They are dratted tasty though and if the sauce is cooked long enough they incorporate well and are not noticeable. If you used canned tomatoes add the liquid from the can. I also do not remove the seeds my tomatoes. I like a lumpy bumpy texture filled sauce.

Add everything else but the pasta and bring to a brief boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about three hours. Yes three hours. Lid on for the first hour. Lid off until the sauce is as thick as you like. You cannot over cook this sauce. It "matures" the longer it cooks. I've let it go for six hours and the results were awesome. Do not minimize time cooked as the oxtail needs to meet with all the nice other ingredients, overcome its natural shyness, become good friends with the seasonings, and tenderize to the point where it is about to fall off the bone.

Stir now and then so it doesn't burn. Sometimes when you cook with oxtails a bit of foamy stuff floats to the top; just skim it off. If the liquid reduces too much, taste first, then add more of whatever you think it could use more of - fresh squished tomato, beef stock, or port. If you add more liquid you may need more spices too, but hold off on more oregano and rosemary, they are just supportive notes and not front and center. Garlic and basil are center stage here.

If the sauce is too thin and dinner is only an hour away, add more paste. I love to use a paste that comes from Italy in a tube. The ingredient list says only tomatoes and salt. Not much salt at that because I could tell if it had a lot. I can detect a grain of salt in a cup of sauce. I'm magical that way.

Taste and adjust the seasonings. If you are a salter, I'll avert my eyes here and sing songs to cover the sound of the grinder. If you want to try what I do when a sauce asks to be salted, add several drops of Tabasco sauce. It does the same accenting of flavors that salt does with less sodium (yes, I know there's salt in there, but there's not that much in a half dozen shakes). Depending on your tomatoes and what you are used to, you may need a pinch more of brown sugar. Italian-Americans often do this to remove the acidic notes of some tomatoes.

Cook the pasta, drain, and put on a platter. Serve with the pot of sauce and let everyone top the oxtails with gravy and select their preferred size of oxtails. Serve with a ton of good fresh made Italian bread so every last drop of the sauce can be mindfully consumed.


*roasting garlic: separate the cloves but do not peel. Place on a small baking sheet - I like to use my toaster oven as there is no need for a large oven for this little bit of garlic. Roast at 375 F for about 20 minutes - or until the papery ends start to brown and curl and the house smells simply divine. Allow to cool and then peel. Yes. You eat them whole and fights will break out over who gets the last ones so make sure you roast a lot.

**we love the small oxtails, but some people prefer the larger pieces. I find those too difficult to extract the meat from. You can just put the small ones in your mouth whole and suck off the meat like you would a rib. If you buy a package already wrapped from the store, it will have both small and large pieces, so if you've not made this before do that and then you can figure out which size you like and then ask the butcher for a special package the next time. It helps to be friendly with your butcher. Likely he's squirreled away a bunch of the lovely small oxtails for himself.

***I do not peel the tomatoes. There's lots of good stuff in the skin, and I like a sauce with texture instead of a smooth liquid. I do not very often use my blender stick for that reason. If you don't like the skin mixed in with the sauce and prefer to peel, then do it. But please put the peel in the compost bin. Then you can salvage some mindfulness. :D

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