Monday, July 7, 2008

Battle Oxtail

A few weeks ago, P and our friend J decided that they were going to match culinary wits in an iron-chef style battle.  Secret (well not so secret, but theme,) ingredient: oxtail.  Neither had cooked with it before. There was a fiasco of coming up with the rules.  How many dishes?  How much oxtail could they use?  When H and I tried to offer helpful suggestions (for example, use Iron Chef judging categories of plating, originality, taste), they men decided that the wives were "meddling" and that "it wasn't fun anymore."  So fine, we stayed out of where we weren't wanted, and just showed up to eat.  Our husbands felt we would each be bias against our own spouse, so they had equal footing.  We all agreed this needed to be documented in the blogosphere to make it really count.

the rules? (as decided upon without the meddling, bothersome input from the wives)
-2 dishes per competitor
-each competitor would receive an equal amount of product (4 large, 2 small oxtails)
-product must be purchased together from the same place (Espositos on 9th street)

the results?
well, there were some missteps from both sides.  First course was very shaky, second course brought some tough decisions.  Here's the run down (all recipes at the end of the post):

First course- J 
Oxtail and Porcini Ravioli with a Red Wine Reduction
this dish had a great concept- fresh ravioli with herb infused dough, filled with braised oxtail, porcini, and more fresh herbs.  The sauce was a delicate reduction of the braising stock.  Only problem- the ravioli were very undercooked.  ruh-roh!  The dough may have been a bit thick as well, but there is no telling due it being close to raw. 

First Course- P
Seared Oxtail Ribbon with Blueberry Sauce or "Babe the Blue Ox"
There is a reason that people braise oxtail.  that reason is all the fat, tendon, membrane, and other connective tissues that surround the meat.  P had this revolutionary idea to make an "ethereal" dish of seared 'ribbons' of the meat which he would carefully butcher away from all the chewy detritus. He did a trial run of this and was able to somehow get himself an edible piece of meat.  When he made the dish for the actual event, he was not so successful.  I had to spit my first bite out.  It was like chewing a rubber ball.  My husband is an amazing cook.  He has never, ever, served me something inedible.  until now.  H's piece was totally edible.  J's was like mine.  P switched with me but I still couldn't finish. Clementine (bestdogintheworld) appreciated the scraps. The Blueberry sauce was very good and has potential with many other applications, including, perhaps, duck.  I would have like a bit of acid in it though. But the flavor was very clean and well, the sauce was purple, which gives it extra points automatically.

Second Course- J
Daube of Oxtail with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
This dish was the winner of the night for me.  It involved a pigs foot, and after knowing that, I still ate it.  Daube is a classic french peasant's dish that sounds like a complicated braise.  Wikipedia tells me that for best flavor, daubes are made in several stages and allowed to cool overnight for the flavors to meld.  I know J did just that.  The sauce was rich, meaty, just sweet enough and the meat was fall- apart tender. He used a serrano ham and a pig's foot to lend a porky deliciousness to the entire dish.  The roasted garlic mashed potatoes were pretty good, too.  What's not good about potatoes, roasted garlic, butter and cream?

Second Course- P
Hickory Smoked Oxtail Braised in Guinness with Polenta and Collards
This dish of P's was far more successful in that it was edible.  Actually, it was very very good.  It was H's favorite preparation of the oxtail.  P's first smoked the oxtail on the barbecue with hickory chips, then braised it with some carrots and such in guinness for a long time.  The smoky flavor complemented the meat well without overpowering it, and the guinness added a subtle richness.  It wasn't braised for days, so it wasn't as tender as the previous dish, but it was still very tender and tasty. I also give P points for including a vegetable, although I don't feel as if it really incorporated with the rest of the dish.  Also the collards were a bit gritty from not being properly cleaned and the polenta was not prepared with the proper water to cornmeal ratio so it was a bit mushy.

The winner?
Overall, I give J more points for final execution (although undercooking the ravioli is close to unforgiveable) and P more points for creativity and originality.  J used classical preparations that succeeded overall, while P took risks with original recipes that fell short in parts.  As the men predicted, H and I each voted against our spouses, making it a tie.  Then both guys did this whole self-depricating bit where they said that the other person's dish was better, their own was so bad, blah blah blah.  I think the only fair way to decide is for each competitor to stand on opposite ends of the room with their dishes, put Clementine in the middle, and see who she runs to first.  Or YOU, the readers can decide.  Which would you rather eat?

Epilogue: J's Rye Dill Bread

J, quite the boulanger, made two delightful rye loaves for us to eat along with dinner. They were too pretty not to be documented (after we ate the first one).  I realized it's not rye I don't like, it's caraway.  This loaf didn't have too much caraway.  Even though I don't like caraway OR dill, I like this bread. 

Now, for the recipes

J's Recipes

Oxtail and Porcini Ravioli with a Red Wine Reduction

1 lb oxtails, trimmed of fat
½ bottle (375 ml) red wine
1.5 cups beef broth
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 oz dried porcini
2 tbsp butter
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
½ tbs fresh rosemary
½ tsp dried tarragon
½ tbs fresh thyme
¾ tbs cornstarch
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2.Trim excess fat from oxtails. Season with salt and pepper, and place in an enameled Dutch oven. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, turning once.
3. Add wine, broth, vinegar, rosemary, tarragon, and thyme to pan. Stir gently to mix and scrape browned bits free.
4. Cover and bake in a 325° regular oven until meat is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours.
5. De-fat the braising liquid.. Boil, uncovered, over high heat, until reduced to 1.5 cups. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water until smooth. Stir into braising liquid, and stir until mixture boils and thickens. Taste and, if desired, add 1 to 2 more teaspoons vinegar.
6. Discard bones and shred meat.
7. In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add onion and carmelize. In the meantime, soak the dried porcini in boiling water for 20 minutes.
8. Chop mushrooms and add to the skillet, along with the shredded oxtails. Cook briefly and set aside.

To make the ravioli
2 Large eggs and 1 egg white
½ tsp salt
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp finely diced fresh thyme and/or rosemary

Form flour, salt, and herbs into a mound with a well in the middle. Into the well pour the beaten eggs and olive oil. Work the egg into the flour with your fingertips until it forms a smooth, rather stiff dough. If it is too crumbly, add water, or if it is too sticky, add flour. Knead the dough for about ten minutes, divide in half, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 20 or 30 minutes.

Roll out dough by hand, and then pass through pasta roller. Cut desired size squares or circles.
Place filling in center, wet edges with water, and place another circle/square on top and seal the edges.
To cook, gently place in boiling water and remove when floating. Serve with red wine sauce.

Daube of Oxtail
adapted from The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert.

4 1/2–5 1/2 pounds oxtail, cut into pieces
1 pig’s foot, split
3/4 lb slab salt pork
1 tbsp olive
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 bottle Syrah, Cabernet, or Merlot
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Herb bouquet: 3 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, and 1 bay leaf, tied together
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 oz Serrano ham  

1. The day before serving, preheat the oven to 275°F. Trim fat from oxtails.
2. Blanch the pig’s foot and salt pork in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain.
Slice the rind off the salt pork and reserve. Cube and divide the salt pork into 2 batches.
In a large skillet, heat the oil and slowly cook half the salt pork until the cubes turn golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Line an enameled cast-iron 5- or 6-quart casserole or Dutch oven with pork rind, fat side down. Transfer the browned salt pork to the casserole.
3. Season the oxtail pieces with salt and pepper, and brown in the skillet over moderately high heat. Transfer the pieces to the casserole as they finish browning.
4. Remove and discard half the fat in the skillet. Cook onions in remaining hot fat until golden brown. Add onions to casserole or Dutch oven.
5. Deglaze the skillet with 1 cup of the wine. Boil down to a glaze. Add another 1 cup of wine and repeat. Add the remaining wine, vinegar, and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring just to a boil and pour over the meats. Add pig’s foot, herb bouquet, and garlic. Cover and place in oven; cook very slowly for 3 hours without disturbing.
6. Remove oxtail to a bowl and cover. Remove the meat from the calf’s food while still warm and place in a food processor. Add the remaining salt pork cubes, the cooked pork rind, cooked garlic, and the ham. Grind to a smooth paste.
7. Strain the cooking liquid, pushing down on the onions to extract all their juices. Remove as much fat as possible and pour the juices into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to moderate, and boil slowly, skimming from time to time, until reduced by one third.
8. Carefully return the pieces of oxtail to the casserole and spread the meat paste on top. Add the reduced liquid. Cover and bake in a 275°F. oven for 2 ½ hours without disturbing.
9. Remove the casserole from the oven; transfer the oxtails to a work surface; discard any loose bones. Season with salt and pepper, place in a bowl, and cover and refrigerate. Separately, cover and refrigerate the cooking liquid

10. About 2 ½ hours before serving, preheat the oven to 275°F. Remove the jellied liquid from the refrigerator and lift off all congealed fat. Combine liquid and meat in the casserole, cover and reheat the daube without stirring for 1 ½ hours.
11. Remove the oxtails to a deep heatproof platter. Cover with foil and keep warm in the turned-off oven. Strain the sauce into a small saucepan. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook at a slow boil, until sauce lightly coats a spoon about 20 minutes. Pour over the meat and serve hot.

Caraway and Dill Rye Bread

1 cup + 3tbs water
2 tbsp sugar
1 ¼ cups rye flour
2 cups bread flour
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp vital wheat gluten
2 ¼ tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp dried dill
2 tbsp caraway seeds
½ cup sour cream

Proof the yeast in 3 tbsp water.
Combine the sugar, rye flour, bread flour, salt, wheat gluten, remaining water, and yeast mixture in a mixing bowl. Let stand for 20 minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix, and then knead (by hand or using a stand mixer) until the dough forms a smooth, slightly sticky ball. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise approximately two hours, or until doubled in bulk.
Gently form the dough into two small loaves or boules. Bread may be formed in banettons if desired. Cover lightly with a lint free cloth and let rise another two hours, or until nearly doubled.
Place a baking stone on the middle oven rack, with a shallow metal dish on the rack below it. Preheat oven to 500˚ F.
Slash the top of the bread with a lame or sharp knife. Slide bread onto stone, and pour 1 cup boiling water into pan beneath the baking stone. Close the over door. After 45 seconds, spray the interior oven walls with water. Close oven door and reduce heat to 350˚ F.
Bake approximately 30 minutes, until an instant read thermometer registers 190˚ F to 200˚F when inserted into the middle of the loaf.
Remove to wire rack and allow to cool.

P's Recipes (please excuse my husband's poor recipe writing skills.  he doesn't use them, so I don't think he knows what they are supposed to look like)

"Babe the Blue Ox"

the sauce was two oxtail bones roasted at 350 for 30 minutes. then, covered with water and simmered low for 2-3 hours. skim fat/crap as it bubbles up. added about 1/2 cup of blueberries, cooked down another 30 minutes, strained.

oxtail itself was just meat removed from bones, flattened out via cuts, salted and seared for about 1 minute on each side.

Smoked Oxtail Braised in Guinness
moke whole oxtails with hickory chunks for 30-45 minutes
finely dice one one onion and one carrot, cook in a little olive oil until onion is translucent. add 1 tsp madras curry powder, 2 bay leaves, salt, pepper, 1/4 tsp allspice. cook down for 2 minutes or so and then add 1 can of Guinness.

get liquid simmering then add previously smoked oxtails. cover and put in 225° oven for 4-5 hours. take out occasionally to flip oxtails around and skim fat.

remove oxtails and let cool a bit. pull meat off of bones. skim fat from liquid and put on stove to reduce to desired consistency. add meat back in, cover and hold in low oven until ready to serve.


H said...

L- You didn't mention your yummy no-oxtail dessert! -H

Mrs. L said...

I'm not sure how everything would have tasted but the photos look yummy!

We Are Never Full said...

i respect your honesty when writing about your recipes! oxtail really must be cooked/braised for a long time to really make it taste best - you're right there! i absolutely love oxtail - we had the most delicious preparation of it in Madrid (which we attempted to recreate on our blog!). Great job w/ the creativity!

Jvarrone said...

I have never had oxtail and would like to know how you chose it. Is there another iron chef competition planned

Jackie said...

Boy, just can't get "turned on" to oxtail, but the rest of those dishes look amazing!

Sarah at TasteSpotting said...

loooove oxtail, though i am far more familiar with it in korean soup....

Annie & Nate said...

Very brave of you to choose oxtail, when even the Iron Chefs would probably eschew them in competition. I would go for the hickory-smoked dish. Which did Clementine go for?

We just had oxtail the other night at a friend's house. They made posole with it. I've had posole before, but not with oxtail. The oxtail really gave it a great, unctuous mouth feel. We bought some tails the other day and our friend gave us some of his spice mix plus some hominy so I think we're good to go for posole tonight!