Sometimes, I plan meals entirely around a condiment. Quesadillas? Merely a vehicle for my El Yucateco hot sauce. An otherwise unsuccessful beet risotto? The perfect excuse to pile on the horseradish. And, like Jill, I often order Indian food just for the raita and assorted chutneys.
It should be no surprise, then, that with a surplus of freshly made Trini-style pepper sauce residing in my refrigerator, I opted for something out of the West Indian playbook: oxtail.
I fully intended to do a straight-forward interpretation, seasoning and browning the meat, then adding a bit of broth and letting it stew away until the meat was falling off the bone, before remembering a recipe I’d dog-eared last year that struck me as the perfect antidote for March’s weather-related split-personality disorder. Much like the month itself, the Lee Brothers’ version of this dish is two seasons in one: heavy enough to negate the chill in the air, but with a springlike undercurrent to urge you out of hibernation.
It’s prepared in the traditional manner, but marries a heady, wintery braising liquid of full-bodied red wine, spicy chile flakes, and the warm flavors of thyme and allspice with the light, fragrant touch of freshly prepared ginger, lemon juice, and parsley.
If March had an official meal, this one could be a contender.
From The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook
Oxtails release a good deal of fat as they cook. If you’re better at this sort of thing than I am, you can either skim it from the surface when the braise is finished, as the recipe dictates, or make the dish the day before serving (as I should’ve done), let it chill overnight, and remove the solidified fat before reheating.
3½ pounds oxtails, sliced into disks
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions (about 3 medium onions)
2 cups finely diced carrots (about 6 medium carrots)
1½ cups robust red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or a Bordeaux blend
1½ cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
A generous ½ teaspoon allspice berries, ground in a mortar or coffee grinder
2½ teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, stemmed, washed, and dried, for garnish
1. Season the oxtails all over with the salt and black pepper. Heat the oil in a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven or enameled cast-iron pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Sear the oxtails in batches, turning them with tongs as each surface becomes golden brown, until they are browned all over, about 6 to 8 minutes per batch. When each batch is browned, remove them with tongs and reserve in a medium bowl.
2. Add the onions and carrots to the Dutch oven, and cook until softened, 2 to 3 munutes, stirring with a wooden spoon and scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Add the wine, broth, chile, thyme, and allspice and bring to a simmer. Return the oxtails and any juices in the bowl to the Dutch oven, cover, and simmer gently until the meat is falling from the bone and the braising liquid has thickened, about 3 hours.
3. With tongs, transfer the oxtails to a medium bowl. When they are cool enough to handle, pick the meat from the bones and discard the bones and any cartilage. Chop the meat into pieces of roughly the same size. Skim some fat from the braising liquid.
4. Return the chopped oxtails to the Dutch oven and simmer over low heat, about two minutes. Add the ginger, lemon juice, and salt and black pepper to taste and heat through, stirring occasionally, about another three minutes.
5. Serve over grits, white rice, or a baked potato, and garnish with the parsley.