With the winter we’ve been enduring — or enjoying for you snowmobile fanatics and skiiers — the kitchen offers both satisfaction and sanctuary. Shovelling the back step makes me feel productive, but having something burbling away in the oven while I’m out freezing my behind off makes me feel downright accomplished.
And if the lights go out for an hour, what odds? Won’t hurt either of today’s dishes, two of my all-time favourite braises to add a spot of colour to our whitest of winters.
If you can’t find oxtail, or can’t get past the thought of eating it, substitute beef short ribs and this recipe will still be fantastic. I love these on top of gooey soft polenta, creamy mashed potatoes or a nest of buttery egg noodles — pick your choice for an all-star meal.
Generosity forces me to allow nearly a pound of oxtail per person, but I can stretch this dish a long way by pulling the meat from the bone before serving it. This recipe will easily serve six, but leftovers are phenomenal, so don’t hesitate to make a big pot.
6 thick-cut oxtails (1-1/2 to 2 inches thick if possible, about 5 or 6 lbs.)
1 cup flour
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 large yellow onions, diced
1 bulb garlic, separated into cloves, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 fresh or 6 dried bay leaves
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups dry red wine
3 or 4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Dry oxtails with paper towels. Combine flour, salt and pepper and dredge oxtails thoroughly. Heat oil in a Dutch oven and fry meat until well browned on all sides. Remove from pot and set aside. Add carrots, celery and onions and fry until they start to soften and take on some colour. Add a little more oil if the pot is dry. Stir in garlic, red pepper flakes and allspice and fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, tomatoes and wine. Bring to a boil then cover the pot, leaving a small opening for the steam to escape, and place in a preheated 325 F oven for 2-1/2 to three hours. Check the pot every half hour or so to make sure the mixture isn’t going dry and add a little boiling water if needed.
Remove pot from oven and retrieve the oxtails; cover with foil and set aside. Fish out and discard herb stalks and bay leaves and let the sauce sit in the pot without disturbing it for 20 minutes. Skim as much fat off the top as possible. If you prefer a smooth sauce, feel free to whiz it in the blender, but I like the vegetable chunks. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as you wish. Return oxtails to pot and bring back up to a boil. Sprinkle green onions on top just before serving.
Braised Mixed Greens with Lentils
Not everybody is crazy about greens, but they would be if they had them this way. There is no bitterness in this dish, only rich, deep flavour. It is a satisfying and complete vegetarian meal but would be fantastic served with any fish or meat.
If you do decide to omit meat from the recipe substitute vegetable oil for the salt pork.
You can use any kind of lentils you like, but if you choose red they will not hold their shape through the cooking time, so add them later — they need just 15 minutes.
You can use other greens if you wish, but if you choose Swiss chard or another more tender variety, then hold off adding them to the pot until the lentils have been cooking for 20 minutes or so. Spinach is not a good choice for this recipe because it won’t hold up to braising.
This starts out as an absolutely huge potful of greens, but cooks down to six servings.
4 rashers of salt pork or strips of bacon
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed and well drained
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
2 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch collard or mustard greens
1 large bunch kale
2 tsp. sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp. hot sauce (more or less to taste)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Fry pork in a Dutch oven over medium heat to render out as much of the fat as possible. Remove the crisp pork and set aside. Discard all but two tbsp. of the pork fat in the pot.
Add onion and fry until golden brown. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant, another minute or two. Add lentils and stir until they are coated with fat and are starting to sizzle. Add thyme, bay leaves, broth, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
Wash and drain the greens and cut off and discard the big, tough stems. Strip the leaves from the remaining portion of the stems. Thinly slice the remaining stems and add to pot. Cut the leaves into one-inch strips and add to pot.
Cover and reduce heat to as low as possible, just to keep the mixture burbling. Simmer, stirring now and again, for 45 minutes, adding a little boiling water if the mixture doesn’t stay soupy. Taste the broth for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.
Discard thyme stalks and bay leaves but don’t drain off the cooking liquid — it’s delicious.
Stir in sherry vinegar, hot sauce and parsley and serve right away in big bowls. Crumble the crispy salt pork on top if you wish.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her
c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s,
NL, A1E 4N1.