Well it is almost November, and you know what that means. For us here in Ontario, the fall season is when we get excited again about slow-cooked comfort food. Time to break out the Dutch oven fill it with meaty bones, hearty root vegetables and cover it with a lovely stock, then let it slow cook all afternoon.
Relox, it’s not really an ox. When’s the last time you saw an ox? Oxtail soup is made with beef bones, but originally it was the sturdy oxen that donated the necessary tail, so the name has stuck. The great thing about oxtail soup is you don’t need that much meat to make the soup. It’s not a stew, after all, so you don’t need to buy kilo of stewing beef or chop up a steak. You can get the very best meat and make a fantastic soup by using an inexpensive cut.
“We all agree the nearer the bone the sweeter the meat”
1778 B. Franklin
Good old Ben Franklin, he knew what he was talking about. Not only is the beef sweeter near the bone, it is more tender as well, so it makes a soup where the meat literally melts in your mouth. Add to that the richness you get from the marrow of the bone, the softness of the fat and you have yourself a bowl of love soup that transcends its humble origins and will make you want to write your mother a letter.
Many cultures have a variation of Oxtail soup, and I know for a fact that Ali’s West Indian Roti shop in Parkdale does a wicked Caribbean version. There are also Scottish versions, which call for the ingredients to be pureed after cooking. Jamaican, Vietnamese, Filipino… basically wherever there are cows there will be a version of oxtail soup that reflects the traditions and tastes of the locals and incorporates the available regional flavours. There are a few constants. Trim the extra fat before searing the meat, always use the best stock you can get your hands on, only use fresh vegetables and take your time; let the Dutch oven work its wonders over the course of a couple hours to ensure all the flavours meld and the bones have released their secrets.
If you’re going to make a great soup, you have to have a great stock. Maybe you know of a good store-bought stock, or if you want to start from scratch, check out this post.
Here is a simple recipe for a British-style Oxtail Soup that the gang in Game of Thrones would be happy to feast on during the long, brutal winter. I recommend you serve it hot with fresh buttered bread and a flagon of mead, or a dark Ontario microbrew like Muskoka Brewery’s Winter Ale.
Classic Oxtail Soup
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ¾ lbs oxtails
3 litres beef broth
1.5 cups red wine
1 chopped onion
1 leek, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, very finely chopped
1 parsnip, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 large russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Sprinkle oxtails with salt and pepper. Add oxtails to pot and brown on all sides, about 20 minutes.
- Add beef broth and wine. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low.
- Cover partially and simmer gently until meat is tender, stirring occasionally, about 3 hours.
- Remove oxtails from pot. Remove meat from bones. Discard bones and return meat to soup.
- Add onions, leeks, carrots, parsnips, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Add potatoes. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with parsley.
- Serve with rustic bread and a nice dark Ontario microbrew