Last night, I had braised oxtail with star anise and Chinese greens. I'd never eaten oxtail before, and I'd certainly never cooked it. Maybe I'd passed it a few times in the meat cooler at the local market, but I don't believe it seriously crossed my mind as an option until recently. It popped up on episode of "Top Chef," and then again in this month's Bon Appetit. In both cases, people were raving about its rich flavor and incredible tenderness. When I found this recipe, I figured I'd give it a shot. While oxtail is common to the cuisine of Britain and the Caribbean, this recipe has obvious East Asian influence. I confess I was a little worried. I mean, this is the tail of a freakin' cow, you know? I tried not to think about that as I set out to cook it.
Aside from cooking time (I braised the meat for 3 hours, then chilled it for one day in the fridge), the recipe was remarkably easy to make. Other than star anise, which some of you may already have in your spice racks, the ingredients are common and easy to locate at your local supermarket. There's relatively little prep work to be done, and almost no chopping at all (one onion and a little ginger).
The only problem I had with the recipe was that the sauce didn't thicken up quite as much as I would've liked (In fact, I ended up throwing in a little cornstarch out of desperation). While this may have affected the presentation, it didn't hurt the taste at all. I found the meat to have intense flavor, a little like brisket, but much, much more tender. When I first took the oxtail out of its package, I was concerned that there wasn't enough meat, and that what there was would be hard to eat off the bone. It turns out I had no cause for concern, as the meat fell off the bone at the slightest touch of a fork. Incredible. What had I been missing?
I got a bottle of Layer Cake Shiraz 2005 to pair with the oxtail. It was good choice. Very chocolaty and easy to drink. The sweetness and spiciness of the wine complemented the faintly licorice taste of the anise clinging to the meat. Really, people shouldn't eat this well on a Tuesday night. It's criminal.