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Braised Oxtail with Egg Noodles

braised oxtail with egg noodles1

I had been eyeing an oxtail recipe in Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook for a while now, so when Prather Ranch was having a sale on oxtail the other week I gleefully bought a 3 lb. bag. Yes, gleefully. Oxtail might be my favorite cut for braising. With far more gelatin than, say, short ribs or cheeks, there’s a rich, luscious, creamy quality to it. I don’t recall ever having eaten a dry piece of oxtail but I’ve unfortunately had chewy, dry short ribs.

My previous experience with cooking oxtail a while ago was so very sad. My impatience got the better of me and rather than letting the oxtail thaw completely before splitting a piece in to smaller segments, I tried to hack in to one while still partially frozen. The result? A chipped cleaver blade. Oops. I couldn’t find the chipped piece anywhere and ended up throwing away the oxtail for fear that it was stuck somewhere in the meat. Don’t worry about the cleaver, though. It was still under warranty and the manufacturer replaced it free of charge. Woo hoo! But I digress.

Back to the bag of COMPLETELY THAWED oxtail segments. The recipe takes a long time, but the bulk of it is spent unattended in the oven and it is so very worth the time. Also, I made this the day ahead and let it sit in the fridge overnight for the flavors to marry. Since you’re basically reheating the day you’re serving, this would be fantastic for a dinner party or maybe even for a Super Bowl party. You could cook up a big vat and let folks make their own sandwich.

Braised Oxtail with Egg Noodles
Adapted from Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
- serves 4 or 5 -

3 lbs oxtails
4 cups beef stock
1-2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 small head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 sprig parsley
1 sprig thyme
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 stalks of celery, leaves trimmed and stalks cut into 2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, cut into thick wedges
1 cup diced tomatoes
10 black peppercorns, barely crushed
Kosher salt
Parsley leaves, chopped, for garnish

Egg noodles for serving

1. Season the oxtails with 2 tsps of salt. Do this up to 3 days before you plan on cooking the oxtails. Salting a few days in advance improves the flavor of the oxtails.

2. When you are ready to cook the oxtails, wipe them dry. Pick an ovenproof saute pan that is large enough to hold all of the pieces of oxtails in a single layer with the vegetables piled and crowded in between. I used a 10″ saute pan and it was perfect.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

4. Heat the saute pan with the canola oil over medium heat. When hot, brown the oxtails on all sides, approx. 5 min per side. I end up with 4 “sides” for each piece of oxtail. Do not crowd the pan; brown in batches if necessary.

5. While you are browning the oxtails, prepare the braising liquid. Place the stock in a saucepan and simmer gently to reduce by about half.

6. When the oxtails are browned, transfer the meat to a plate and discard the oil in the pan. Add approx. 1 cup of the reduced stock to the pan to deglaze. Reduce heat to medium-low.

7. Add the oxtails back to the pan and arrange in a single layer. Distribute the bay leaves, garlic, parsley, thyme, black pepper, carrot, celery, onion, and tomatoes, filling in the nooks and crannies between the chunks of meat. Add enough of the reduced stock to come to about 1/3 of the way up the sides of the meat.

8. Continue to cook over medium-low heat. When it starts to simmer, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place the pan in the oven.

9. Cook until the oxtail is tender and has just begun to pull from the bone, about 3.5 hours. At 2 1/2 hours, check the doneness of the meat. The vegetables will have released a lot of moisture, so after you’ve checked the doneness, leave the lid slightly ajar so that the liquid reduces a bit. Keep checking the meat every 20-30 minutes until ready.

10. When the oxtails are ready, remove the pan from the oven and flip the oxtails over to remoisten the drier face. Allow the oxtails to cool for at least 30 minutes, up to an hour, while still in the braising liquid. I left the lid half off.

11. When cooled, separate the meat on the oxtail from the bone and place in a bowl. I also take apart any chunks of fat that I can and discard. Discard the oxtail bones.

12. Strain the braising liquid into a separate bowl, discarding the vegetables and herbs. Ideally, you’d strain into one of those fat separators. If you don’t have one, strain into a bowl and skim off the fat layer on top. Pour a couple tablespoons of the de-fatted liquid over the meat. Keep the remainder of the de-fatted liquid in the separate pan. Cover and refrigerate the meat and the liquid.

13. When ready to serve, start a pot of boiling water for the egg noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

14. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

15. Add all of the meat to a saucepan that can hold the meat in a 1-2″ layer and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Make sure that there’s a small amount of liquid at the bottom of the pan. If not, add up to 1/3 cup of water or beef stock just to coat the bottom of the pan. When it starts to simmer, transfer the saucepan, uncovered, to the oven and cook until meat is warmed through, about 20-30 minutes. By transferring the saucepan to the oven, the top of the meat will get nice and brown.

16. While the meat is reheating, place all of the de-fatted liquid into a saucepan (if there’s a layer of solidified fat on top, skim and discard). The liquid will have gelled overnight in the fridge. Simmer and reduce the liquid until it has the right sauce-y consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.

17. To serve, place a serving of egg noodles on a plate. Top with the oxtail meat, sauce, garnish with the parsley and finish with a pinch of sea salt. Because the oxtail meat is so rich, a little goes a long way.

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