The first time we went in to pick up beef from the butcher, he asked if we’d like the licker, the flicker, or the ticker. We stood looking at him like a couple of newbies. I’m not sure if he actually rolled his eyes, but probably somewhere in his head he was.
The tongue, the tail, or the heart. Not having had much experience with any of them, we opted for the least embarassing, and said, “yes please.”
So started my fascination with slow braising of the most intensely flavoured muscle meat that a beef animal has to offer. These aren’t actually organs, they are constantly used muscles, tough because of their use. They pump, lick, help to swallow, and flick away flies.
The more a muscle is used, the more flavour it has. The trick is how to get that flavour in an accessible way. In other words, without much chewing!
This soup is one of my all time favourites. I think I was first introduced to it in a red & white labelled can. Now it is made once or twice a year (there’s only one tail per animal). Cook the meat, creating the stock, one day; put together the soup the next. Take your time, no one is expecting you to rush while making a pot of soup.
3 – 4# oxtail, cut into 1½ “ chunks
flour for dredging – ½ a cup or so
3 tablespoons beef drippings, bacon drippings, or vegetable oil
2 medium sized yellow onions
3 T flour
3 litres of water, or ½ water ½ pre-made beef stock (note: if using bouillion to create a stock, only use enough to flavour 1.5 litres)
3 T tomato paste
2 t salt
¼ t pepper
1 bay leaf
6 – 7 sprigs of thyme
a small handful of parsley
3 medium carrots, diced
1 good-sized stalk of celery, diced
¾ cup pot barley (pearl’s ok in a pinch)
½ c dry sherry (optional)
1 – 2 T soya sauce
A piece of cheesecloth and some kitchen string for tying up the herbs.
Heat the drippings or oil in a large, heavy pot, over medium high heat.
Dredge the oxtails in the flour.
Sear the oxtails, rotating to get as much browning as possible.
Turn the heat down to medium, and cook the diced onions, while stirring frequently, for about 8 minutes, until slightly browned.
Cook while stirring until thickened.
Slowly add in the water, stock (if using), tomato paste, salt & pepper while stirring.
Lay out the cheesecloth, and group the herbs & cloves on it. Tie it up with a bit of kitchen string.
Add the herbs to the pot.
Return the seared oxtails to the pot, making sure there’s enough liquid to cover them (add in a bit if needed).
Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer.
Continue cooking for 3 hours on low.
The meat should be fork tender, and slipping off the bone. Cook a little longer if necessary.
Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove all of the meat & bones from the stock and into a bowl.
Remove and discard the wrapped herbs.
Let the stock cool, stirring occasionally, until it is cool enough to put in the fridge overnight. It cools faster if you pour it into a roasting pan, so that it isn’t so deep and has more surface area. If it’s cold out, you can put it out on the porch to cool, before moving it to the fridge.
Cool the meat & bones.
Pull away as much meat as you can from the bones, discarding any obvious bits of fat and gristle along with the bones.
Chop the meat, and reserve covered in the fridge until the next day.
The next day – 1½ hours before serving:
Skim any fat off the stock. Discard.
Reheat the stock over medium heat.
Peel, trim and dice the carrots.
Trim and dice the celery.
Add in the barley.
Lower the heat to a simmer.
Add in the sherry.
Test for seasoning. The better seared the meat, the better the stock. If you feel it needs a little something, just add a tablespoon or two of soya sauce. Do not add salt.