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July 15, 2020

A Sweet and Savory Tail | The Mixing Bowl

Many cultures eat oxtail, the discreet name for the tail of the species Bos Taurus, usually called cattle in the live form, and beef, when they are eaten. A classic Italian dish is called coda alla vaccinara. Koreans eat gomguk, Filipinos prepare Kare-Kare, Cubans make rabo encendido and South Africans prepare potjie, to give a few examples. It contains a lot of gelatin, a natural thickener, and is usually cooked into a stew or soup.

It also has a lot of flavor. This version is Asian with ginger, star anise, soy sauce and thinly sliced mandarin orange peels. Brown sugar adds sweetness. It is an easy recipe and can be served by itself or with rice or noodles on the side. Top with green onions, cilantro and minced chilis. I sautéed some onions and greens together to serve alongside it. The recipe is adapted from an online version from Asianfoodtrail.com and inspired by a dish made by a friend from Beijing, Wandi Wang, who served it for dinner a while ago. 

Butcher shops like Freedom Meat Locker, D’La Colmena, and Corralitos Market and Sausage Company usually sell oxtail. If you go to one of the Mexican butcher shops, you can also pick up yuca, another ingredient in this dish. Although potatoes are also a root vegetable and a good substitute, I prefer the texture and flavor of yuca. Yuca root can be found fresh or frozen.

Yuca, also called manioc or cassava, is native to Brazil. Over time, it became cultivated and eaten by other pre-Columbian people in northern South America, Central America and the Caribbean. The Spanish and Portuguese colonizers imported it around the world to Asia and Africa where it has become a staple food because of its tolerance to drought and poor soil. It now provides a basic diet for over half a billion people. Some varieties contain poisons so yuca must be processed by cooking or drying and should never be eaten raw. I bought it frozen and already peeled and ready to cook. 

Chinese style stewed oxtail

2 ½-3 pounds oxtail, chopped in sections about a 1½ inch thick 

1 tablespoon salt & pepper, half to be used to rub over the oxtails

4-6 tablespoons vegetable oil 

1/2 cup dry sherry cooking wine, rice wine or mirin

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce 

2 tablespoons chili bean sauce (doubanjiang)- optional

Enough water just to cover the surface

4 tablespoons brown sugar

3-6 pieces star anise 

1 piece small cinnamon stick 

1 piece ginger peeled thumb-size cut in ¼ inch pieces

4 cloves garlic peeled and smashed

1 piece finely sliced fresh mandarin peel

4-inch chunk of peeled yuca or potato, cut into 3/4 inch squares – about 1 ½ cups

1 large carrot peeled and cut in chunks

For garnish:

2 green onions, thinly sliced

½ cup chopped cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons minced jalapeño or serrano chilis

Rub the oxtail with salt and pepper. In a medium-sized Dutch oven, add the vegetable oil and heat over medium. When the oil shines, add the oxtail pieces. Stir until they are browned all over and the meat releases easily from the bottom. 

Add cinnamon and star anise. As soon you can smell them, add the ginger and garlic stirring the pot the whole time. When bits start sticking to the bottom, pour in the cooking wine and scrape the bits lose. Next add the soy sauce, chili bean sauce, mandarin peel and sugar. Add water to cover meat. 

Simmer with the lid on for about to 3-4 hours. Add carrots and cassava before the last hour. You want the meat to be so tender it falls off the bones and the vegetables should still retain their shape. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Serve straight away on its own or with plain white rice or noodles on the side. Sprinkle with cilantro, sliced green onion and minced green chilis with some fresh herbs scattered on top.

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