10 January 2014

Red-Wine Oxtails with Mascarpone Polenta

I've survived my first polar vortex and can't help but feel somewhat accomplished for not having developed frostbite, been carried off by a Wampa or otherwise held captive by the abomidable snow man.

I love extreme weather. It adds interest and a bit of excitement in a universal way -- an entire city, or in this circumstance, multiple regions of North America sharing in something so elemental. Other than sporting events or national tragedies, this sort of thing doesn't happen too often.

Apropos to the occasion, I present braised oxtails with a luxe accompaniment of mascarpone polenta. During the 9 to 5 hours I work in Crown Heights -- a community in Brooklyn populated by a large Caribbean population for whom stewed oxtails are as common as can be as a regular any-day-of-the- week menu item. When I shared with one of my co-workers a description of last nights' dinner, she gave me slightly surprised exclamation of approval before offering to share her grandmother's recipe for next time. I'll take her up on it as the preparation I went for as a first experiment with oxtails, though delicious and just what the Vortex ordered, was fairly tame and decidedly un-Caribbean in its lack of bonnet peppers or indeed any major heat. 

Turns out oxtails are every bit as simple to braise and delectable to consume as short ribs, or any sort of shank (lamb, veal, etc.). Depending on where you purchase your oxtails they are pennies to dollar the proverbial "bang for your buck". I used a basic but reliable looking recipe from Simply Recipes and wasn't disappointed. I swapped out the addition of roasted vegetables in the original recipe and instead used Emeril's polenta, which I'd had versions of before. Any mash will do however as a base, or white rice as my friends in Crown Heights do. 

Red-Wine Oxtails with Mascarpone Polenta
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Serves 4-6.

3 lbs oxtails, cut
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 cups stock (chicken or beef)
1 1/2 cups of red wine
3 whole cloves garlic, peel still on
One bay leaf
Bunch of fresh thyme
Bunch of fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pat dry your oxtails and sprinkle them all over with salt and pepper. In a 6-Quart Dutch oven or stove/oven ready large pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium heat. Working in batches, and not crowding the pan, sear the oxtails in hot pan on all sides until golden brown. Rmove oxtails to a plate, setting aside.

To the same pan, add the chopped onion, carrot, and celery to the pan. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent. Add the oxtails back to the pan. Add the whole garlic cloves, the stock and wine as well as the bay leaf, thyme, and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring to simmer then place in oven for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, until meat is fork tender.

When meat is tender, carefully remove oxtails from the cooking liquid and place on a covered plate. Let the liquid cool slightly and either skim the fat off the top with a spoon or chill the cooking liquid for several hours so that the fat solidifies, making it easier to remove. If you are making ahead, at this point you can just put the stew in the refrigerator (let come to room temp first), with the oxtails still in it, and let it chill over night. The next day, scrape off the fat, reheat and then remove the meat from the dish.

Once you have removed the fat from the liquid, pour it through a mesh strainer into a bowl, using a rubber spatula to press against the vegetable solids caught in the strainer. Discard the solids. Return the liquid to the pan and simmer until reduced by half. Finally, add the oxtails back to the pan. Heat on low heat for half an hour for the flavors to meld. 

Mascarpone Polenta
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

2 cups water
2 cups milk
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup polenta (coarsely ground yellow cornmeal)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese

In a large saucepan, bring the water and milk to a slow boil. Add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and season with salt and white pepper. Gradually add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently with a heavy wooden spoon until thick and creamy, 15-20 minutes. Add the heavy cream and mascarpone to the polenta and adjust the seasoning, to taste. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes longer, or until smooth, thick and creamy. Keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon the polenta into 4 large bowls. Top each with a 2-3 oxtails and spoon the sauce over the them. Top with chopped parsley before serving.

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