Happy Birthday, Dad! My Dad’s birthday is always around Father’s Day and my Mom’s birthday is always around Mother’s Day. They’re within a day or two, or on the same day as the holiday some years! As a kid I thought parents were all that way. It just seemed logical. Later of course I learned it was simply a unique coincidence.
This year Dad’s birthday is 6 days before Father’s Day, a rare distance. But in honor of my Dad’s birthday today I decided to make the dish he is famous for besides his Peanut Brittle. Oxtail Stew belongs solely to my Dad, he owns it! My Mother never made it on her own. It actually wasn’t something we all loved, but as kids we ate the noodles and sauce. We left the creepy tail bones for my dad and maybe one of my braver brothers. Dad is the one who truly loves oxtail stew.
When I recently asked Dad where he found the recipe, he said it came from a man he worked with on the railroad many, many years ago. Ralph Baird, who is no longer with us, was formerly a Navy cook and shared his recipe for oxtail stew and his recipe for baked beans with my Dad. They didn’t have any paper along on the train so Ralph wrote the recipes on the bottom of a cigar box that my dad carried for holding his shaving equipment in his grip. Such an interesting start for a recipe that became a family tradition for us!
I will say that I do love the smell of this stew. Rich with tomato juice, allspice, bay leaf and lemon, it fills the house with an aromatic preview of the delicious sauce. If you can actually find the oxtails in your local stores, you should try it! It took me several calls and visits to find the oxtails at $6.99 a lb. That seems insane, considering the very small amount of meat on the bones. But it is worth the splurge for a special treat at least once a year. In honor of my Dad, of course.
I cut apart the bones that were all in one frozen lump when I bought them. (They aren’t really from an ox, they are beef). I dredged them in flour I’d seasoned with a little salt and pepper and seared them over medium high heat in a drizzle of oil in a nonstick skillet. Some recipes I looked at roasted them in the oven until dark brown. That would be another option. I used my Dad’s directions and seared them.
While my tail seared (I know, lame but I couldn’t resist!) I heated a drizzle of oil in my smallest soup pot and sautéed the onions until they were translucent then added the tomato sauce to deglaze the pan. At this point my P.S. (Pants over Stew/hubby) came along and inhaled deeply, loving the smell of seared tail (ok that was the last one. I giggle childishly over these things).
I added water and garlic to the stew pot, then the allspice and bay leaf. Sometimes I wrap the allspice and bay leaf in a piece of cheesecloth for easier removal later. I didn’t this time. When the tail bones were deeply browned and caramelized for that wonderful depth of flavor I added them to the pot. I let it come to a bubble, then reduced the heat to medium low, covered the pot and let it simmer for 3 hours.
I stirred the pot every half hour or so, making sure it wasn’t burning or doing odd things behind my back. You never know what tail can get up to (I know, I’m done now!)
After 3 hours I put a pot of salted water on the heat and brought it to a boil. I cooked the egg noodles until they were al dente. I rarely read the package directions for pasta. I just watch it carefully and keep testing until it’s to my liking. Those boxes aren’t often right on their timing.
I added the lemon juice to the oxtail stew, remembering how my Dad told us each time he made oxtail stew that it was the final step that made the stew what it was. The lemon juice broke up the fat and made the sauce tangy and perfect. I think emulsification was the word we were searching for, had we known what it was back then.
I taste tested my oxtail stew’s sauce added a little more salt and a few dashes of pepper to taste. I removed the bones from the sauce and added the noodles, letting them cook a few minutes to soak up the lovely, flavorful sauce. I had made a quick fried spinach dish to serve with the stew (a later post) and dinner was ready!
P.S. and I were very happy with our dinner. The rich sauce is like nothing else I ever make, so it was a welcome change. I’d make it more often if that beef tail wasn’t ridiculously hard to find here up North, as well as slightly expensive! (We’ll let that sentence rest so we don’t get in trouble.)
Note: I always double the sauce when I make it. The recipe below is for a single recipe that serves 2. Doubled, it is perfect for one package of egg noodles. I like to have leftover sauce and noodles as a side dish for a second meal. I mention this as my pictures may look different from yours if you make a single recipe.
Dad’s Oxtail Stew
2 lbs oxtails (ask your butcher, or they might have them in the freezer case)
1/2 cup flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper stirred in
2 cups tomato juice (the rest of the can? time for Bloody Mary’s!)
1/2 cup water
1 cup onion; chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt
4 whole allspice
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic; minced
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 package egg noodles; cooked al dente
Cut apart oxtails into single boned pieces if necessary. Dredge oxtails in seasoned flour and brown in a drizzle of oil over medium high heat in a skillet until browned on all sides.
To a small soup pot or a large saucepan add a drizzle of oil and saute the onion until translucent.
Add tomato juice and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Add water, onion allspice, bay leaf, garlic and ox tails.
Bring to a bubble then cover and simmer for 3 hours over medium low heat.
Remove allspice and bay leaf. Add lemon juice. Taste test for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot over egg noodles cooked to al dente according to package instructions.