Many years ago, my husband was asked to be an apprentice for a well known chef in London, Simon Hopkinson. This was a great opportunity for him. Claud was young and eager to learn everything he could from this amazing chef and his team of cooks. He had been working at an oyster bar beneath the restaurant for a few years, shucking oysters and serving champagne.
On his first day, one of the other cooks told him he needed to prepare a water reduction for the chef. They told him to boil a series of huge pots of water and let them boil until each pot reduces to one inch. They explained to Claud that these were meant to create the perfect water reduction that the chef would use for his sauces later that evening. Claud did as he was told and filled several huge pots with water and placed them over high heat. He watched the pots boil for a very long time until there was only one inch left of water in each pot. Later in the evening, the chef walked in and Claud told him that his water reductions were ready. Simon gave him a puzzled look.
All of the other cooks broke out into hysterical fits of laughter. They pointed and laughed at Claud. Claud realized he had been tricked. There is no such thing as a water reduction. You reduce sauces and stews when you want to create an intense flavor but a water reduction doesn't make any sense.
A bowl of hearty oxtail stew
Beefy oxtails take plenty of cooking, but the results are worth the wait.
Claud was embarrassed but knew he was a rookie and this was part of the game. He had been officially hazed. Now he was a true member of the team. After this episode, he went on to learn what a reduction was really about and how to make some of the most amazing sauces and stews using this method.
As I made oxtail stew this week and the sauce was reducing, Claud recalled this old story about when he was fooled by the other chefs and told me and the kids all about it. I chose oxtail stew this week because I ran across oxtails in the market and remembered how delicious they were last time Claud made this stew. I thought oxtail stew would be an interesting recipe to discuss because you don't see it very often. However, oxtail stew has been around for a very long time and can be found in the recipes of many cultures. There are recipes for oxtail stew in Chinese, Greek, Indian, Spanish, English, and Jamaican cookbooks to name a few. It is difficult to find a culture which does not have a recipe for oxtail stew.
The dish is very simple to make; but, takes four hours to cook. You don't need to watch over it while it cooks. It might be a good idea to make it in a crock pot if you aren't going to be home for the four hours.
Time: 4 1/2 hours
4 pounds oxtails
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced in half and smashed
3 cups red wine (I used cabernet)
6 cups beef/chicken stock
8 oz. tomato sauce
3 bay leaves
4 large potatoes
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon butter
sprigs of parsley to garnish
Sprinkle salt and pepper on the ox tails. Heat the olive oil over high heat in a dutch oven. Once the oil is quite hot, add the oxtails. Brown the oxtails on all sides. Take the oxtails out and place on a plate. Place the onion into the dutch oven and saute for five minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another five minutes. Pour in one cup of wine to deglaze the pot. Scrape any of the browned meat from the bottom of the pot. Pour in the rest of the wine, the stock and the tomato sauce. Add the bay leaves. Let this simmer for three hours. Add in the potatoes, carrots and celery for the last hour. During the four hours of cooking, the stew will reduce, you should see that the liquid has lowered a few inches from the start. This creates a richer flavor. Melt the butter and mix it in with the flour. Whisk this combination into the stew to thicken it. Add any more salt and pepper if it needs it. Garnish with parsley, serve and enjoy.
Some people may be squeamish about eating meat off of a tail. If you can get past that part, the end result of this stew is so rich and full of flavor. The meat falls off of the bone and almost melts on your tongue. It is a hearty and filling way to warm up after a cold fall day.