Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mary Lou's SoMil Oxtail Soup

Soup weather is upon us here in Wisconsin. I say that despite the beautiful fall days we’re having right now. Soup still seems to suit the mood, and the right flavors match the colors of the day.

Some months ago, the spice company catalog contained a recipe for Oxtail Soup. I keep trying to push our meat boundaries - so many chefs extol the virtues of the offing in the offal and snout-to-tail eating. Snouts don’t show up at the butcher (at least not that I’ve seen). Oxtails, however, are a regular feature.

I will warn you, this is not a fast recipe. The slow caramelizing of the roasting meat bones and vegetables, and then the even slower simmer to make stock is absolutely key to the flavors here. I usually make it on a day off or over 2-3 evenings. It's low maintenance until finishing; easy to get it going and then work on other things. 

There’s something incredibly beefy about the smell of oxtails roasting.

After they are good an roasty-toasty, they get combined with water and some spices and veg for a few hours of really, really, really low simmer.

The stock needs to cook until the oxtails are falling apart. At this point, the strained stock out is spoon-worthy in its own right. Deep, beefy, rich, red-brown goodness. Perfect food as is. Made even better by adding back the meat and a fresh round of vegetables of your choice.

I’m still not sure we’ll try the snout. But I can tell you, the tail is definitely divine.

Mary Lou’s SoMil Oxtail Soup
Our recipe is a blend of a version from the Penzey's catalog, and the beef stock recipe in Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. It doesn’t include any starches, making it low in carbohydrates and perhaps even “paleo.” I think the recipe is pretty forgiving for the final soup, so use whatever vegetables you like. The mix for the stock is critical and ultimately makes the flavor, so I would recommend staying closer to the recipe. In the end, this is homestyle cooking at its best, and what comes out of your kitchen can be, and should be, entirely your own.

The roasting part:
  • 3-4 lbs beef oxtail pieces
  • 2-3 carrots, cut in half longwise
  • 2-3 stalks celery, cut in halves
  • 1 medium onion, cut in large chunks
  • 1 medium tomato, quartered
  • Sea salt

The simmering part:
  • 1 medium tomato, quartered (yes, another one)
  • 2-3 large sprigs of parsley
  • 2-3 cloves unpeeled garlic, smashed
  • 6-8 whole black peppercorns
  • 4-6 whole allspice berries
  • Onion, carrot, celery if needed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

The finishing part:
  • Strained stock*
  • Meat from oxtails
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2-3 carrots, finely diced and par-steamed in the microwave**
  • ½ to 2/3 cup sliced okra (I use frozen)
  • ½ to 2/3 cup peas (frozen - fresh if you’ve got ‘em)
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place meat and veg in a large open roasting pan. Sprinkle meat lightly with salt. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, turning the meat every 15 minutes or so to get it caramelized on all sides. Baste the veg and meat occasionally with any fat that renders out.

Transfer the oxtails and veg to a large stockpot (I use a heavy enameled cast iron dutch oven); leave out any veg that got too dark (or eat it for a mid-cooking snack - yum!). You want anything that’s a dark mahogany brown, but not black. Add tomato, parsley, garlic, peppercorns, and allspice berries. Sprinkle salt over. Add fresh carrot and celery (1-2 each in large chunks) and onion (half a large onion) depending on how much veg you have left after roasting. Add water to cover by about 2 inches, bring to boil, then turn the heat way down to maintain a slow simmer. And walk away. It will need to simmer for about 4 hours. Check it every so often, add in a little water if the level gets low (which it shouldn’t if your heat is low enough). Turn off the heat and allow 30-45 minutes to cool.

Remove the oxtails to a platter; pick out the meat and set aside***. Strain stock and discard solids. Wipe out the stockpot/dutch oven, heat olive oil to a shimmer. Add onions and celery; sprinkle lightly with salt and sauté lightly until becoming translucent. Add bell pepper and cook until beginning to soften. Add stock, meat, pre-steamed carrots, okra, peas, etc. Warm through. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

*You can reduce any fat in the stock by chilling it overnight and lifting the hardened fat off the remaining liquid, although I think this also reduces the richness of the flavor.
**Pre-steaming the carrots means you don’t have to cook the whole soup as long. You really don’t want to cook the meat for long at this point as is it already very, very tender.
***We save all the non-bone, non-meat bits for our dog and mix a small spoonful in with her meals; too much would be too rich, but the extra fats help keep her skin and joints in good condition. She looks pretty good for being 12, don’t you think?!

Our regular Weekly Randomness model, Miss Nora Pooh herself.

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