Hannah Palmer Egan
This Northern Oxtail stew is based on the Caribbean classic.
In Caribbean cookery, there is a thing called "browning." It can come pre-made in bottles, but it's very easy to make at home. It's basically just burnt brown sugar, mixed with water. When used to season meat, browning can be made in the pan and used to glaze the protein right then and there. It's also added to cakes, rice dishes and so many other things to add color and a bit of dark flavor to the mix.
I've had an oxtail from Kenyon's farm in Waitsfield (they sell excellent, very affordable beef and at their farm supply/variety store on Route 100
) in my freezer for a while now, so I decided to go the oxtail stew route with it.
The wonderful thing about an oxtail stew — aside from the obvious joy of eating the rich, gelatinous, fall-apart meat from the bone, sauce drizzling down your fingers — is that every cook does it differently. And every Jamaican, Trinidadian, Barbadian mother's version is the best version. But most call for browning, and I wanted to make a fairly classic version, because it is just so, so, sinfully good. A perfect winter food.
Since this is Vermont, I substituted maple syrup for brown sugar. I also used a dark rum to add an extra layer of sweetness to it, and beer to round out the flavor. If I'd been trying to stretch the recipe, I would have thrown in some potatoes and other white root vegetables, too, and maybe some barley. But since my mission was dinner (with leftovers) for two, I kept it simple with just the meat and seasoning vegetables.
Burnt Maple Oxtail Stew
- 2 pounds oxtail, cut into segments
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup dark rum, stout or porter
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 10 allspice berries, whole
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
- 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
- 1/2 cup coconut porter or milk stout
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 very large (or two small) Vidalia onion, loosely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, loosely chopped
- 3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch discs
- 2/3 cup dried, or 1 can, butter or lima beans
- 2 potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes*
- 2 small turnips, cut into 1-inch cubes*
- 1 parsnip, cut into 1-inch cubess*
- 3 tablespoons barley*
**About the rice:
- Turn your crock pot on to high heat.
- Trim the excess fat from the oxtail, particularly the wider pieces at the base of the tail, which tend to have a thick rind. Leave just a little, but get rid of all but a very thin layer, as you'll be eating this later. Dust generously with salt and pepper.
- In a large skillet or shallow pan, heat the maple syrup over high heat until it barely begins to burn, 2-3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the rum or beer and add the oxtail, turning often on all sides, until the beef is browned and coated in a dense, sugary gloss. Spoon the meat into the crock pot, deglaze the pan again, with 2-3 cups of water this time, and add the liquid to the crock pot. If any sugar is burnt onto the pan, scrape it off with a spatula and discard.
- Place the pan back on the stove, with three tablespoons of oil, and set heat to high.
- Add the allspice, thyme, Worcestershire, soy sauce and beer to the crock pot.
- Add the garlic, onion and bell pepper to the pan, reduce heat to medium and sauté until the onions brown. Add the veggies to the crock pot, along with the carrots and root vegetables, if you're using them. Deglaze the pan again (with a cup or two of water) and add this liquid to the crock pot, too.
- Add the beans. If using dried beans, add an extra cup of water.
- Cook on high heat for 1-2 hours, reduce heat to low, and cook another 3-4 hours, until the beef is falling off the bone.
- Serve with ginger-coconut rice.**
To get perfect rice every time, I cook it Latin American style, no matter what I'm serving it with. The method is easy: place rice in a large bowl or sieve and rinse in cool (not cold) water until the water runs clear. This can take a while, so have patience. When the rice is adequately rinsed, drain thoroughly (if using a sieve, pat the bottom until it stops dripping). Mince one small clove of garlic and/or one small onion (per cup of rice), and/or half a bell pepper.
Heat two tablespoons oil (coconut oil, if making coconut rice) per cup of rice in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, etc. (If making ginger rice, omit the onion/pepper and substitute about one teaspoon of freshly grated ginger), and sauté until the onions are clear, 3-5 minutes.
Add the rice and fry (no water yet) until the rice just begins to brown, 7-8 minutes. Dust amply with salt. Add water so that it covers the rice by about half an inch. Stir gently to mix the salt in. Cover and cook over medium-low heat (do not stir!) until the water is absorbed and the rice is soft, 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on it, as you may need to add a little more water, 1/2 a cup at a time, if it cooks too quickly.