Friday, September 16, 2011

Sometimes your batteries are at 0% by Friday

Do you ever have that day where you work hard and think you're making good progress, and then look up at 5 p.m. and realize that the whole premise of your project is irrevocably flawed? I had That Day at work today. My number was up. Usually when That Day happens, I just go home at the end of it and start again the next day and it's no big deal. The difference today was that I thought I had a really great story idea for our next issue, and it just wouldn't come together. I really, really liked the idea. But it wasn't happening. I could feel myself wilt.

But during a diner dinner with a very funny friend, I remembered that not all my ideas fall apart, and that I'd had a pretty good one earlier this week. I had been making oxtail stew and thought, Why not add more meat to this meat? I included about a pound of beef stew meat, and otherwise kept the recipe that I like to use the same as always. You could leave it out if you like, but including a bunch bone-free meat to oxtail stew makes eating it a little less fiddly when you're starving. You can slake the hunger a little bit before getting on with the bone gnawing.

Braised Oxtail and Beef Stew
Based on Tom Valenti's Braised Oxtail and Cipolline Onions, from Soups, Stews and One-Pot Meals

4 pounds oxtail
1 pound beef stew meat, cut into cubes and patted dry
Coarse salt
Black pepper
Big glug of olive oil
Big pinches of marjoram, thyme, oregano and rosemary
1 large carrot, diced
2 onions, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and left whole
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bottle of red wine -- about 4 cups
2 quarts beef broth (This time around, I also added about 2 cups of mushroom broth that I had in the freezer, and it gave it a deeper, earthier dimension. If you do the same, just reduce the beef broth by the same amount)
2 bay leaves

1. Turn the oven to 325 degrees. Salt and pepper the oxtail; pat all the stew meat dry and season that, too.

2. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat until it's hot enough to make a cube of meat really sizzle when you set it in. Add the oxtail and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and do the same with the beef cubes.

3. If there's a lot of fat in the pan, pour some of it off until there's just enough to cook the vegetables, about two tablespoons. Add the carrot, celery, garlic and herbs, and cook until the vegetables start to get soft.

4. Add the tomato paste, wine, broth and bay leafs, and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and pop into the oven. Cook for one hour. Remove the cover and cook for another hour.

5. Check to see that the stew meat is tender and the oxtail is falling off the bone a bit. You can eat this right away, like I did, or you can stick it in the fridge and let all the fat rise to the top and harden, which makes it easy to remove in the morning. Either way, the stew is finished, ready to do your bidding and cheer you up, especially if you've had That Day.

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