Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oxtail Stew and Macaroni Pie

Okay, I've been guilted. Now that Angie's already posted on the blog I made her join, I know that I need to contribute.

It's taken a while for me to decide on my first post. You see, I've been thinking about this blog thing for some time. I've been lurking on other blogs, tagging recipes on delicious, taking pictures of my food, and generally being an obsessive observer. This is what I do. I stare before I leap.

Finally, I've decided. I'm starting with a bang. Oxtail stew is on my top ten list of best things to put in one's mouth. It's a recipe from home. Oxtail and pig's tail are very commonly used in Trinidad, and I was puzzled to discover that many Americans think that eating an animal's tail is weird and somewhat gross. No one seems to understand that there is a perfect fat:muscle ratio, huge flavor, and the most satisfying marrow packed bone in the tail. That's fine, more oxtail for me.

In St Louis, finding oxtail is a bit of a challenge, but very much possible. There are two places you can get it, at the Soulard farmer's market and at Global Foods, which is in Kirkwood. This particular tail was bought at Global, bearing a tag that claimed it was never frozen. I don't know that I believed that little story, and I'm not sure what advantages that gives to a meat that I was going to stew for six hours, but it probably made somebody else feel better about their purchase.

In Trinidad, oxtail is usually cooked in a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers are much more difficult to find in St Louis than are oxtail. I don't own one, and can't help you find one. If you know of one, help a girl out. So, I've settled on the slow cooker. Although it uses a completely opposite method to the precious pressure cooker, it also comverts tough, sinewy meat to fall-off-the-bone deliciousness. Weird, huh? And, just in case you're not sure what fall-off-the-bone deliciousness looks like, I've included this handy photograph:

Before it goes into the slow cooker, the meat undergoes the quintessential Trinidadian treatment of being browned in sugar and oil. We brown all of our meat like this before stewing, and one day there will be a post on chicken getting on this action. Stewed chicken is very popular at home, very Trini. Don't be scared of the sugar treatment, it does wonderful things to the meat, and it will not be sweet as a result.

And the macaroni pie, well, that's just what Trinis call baked macaroni and cheese. We eat it quite frequently, as a side dish. Macaroni and cheese would be never be considered a full dinner in a Trini mother's house (my mother very much included). It's easy, it's good, and it's even better with some oxtail gravy over the top.

At home we get long sticks of macaroni that we use for this. I cannot find that pasta in St Louis. So, I use either elbow macaroni, or shells. This pie was made with shells, and I've really begun to like using them for this, as they just seem a touch more elegant. They're just prettier. And they hold cheese quite well.

Let's start the recipes,

Oxtail Stew

1-2 oxtails
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1.5 tsp dry thyme
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
6 tbsp of Trinidad green seasoning* or use your beef marinade of choice
salt and pepper

1. Place your oxtail pieces in a medium-sized bowl or container. Add garlic, green seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and allow to marinate overnight. If you're not using green seasoning, just marinate as you would usually any beef for stewing.

2. Now that the meat is ready, place a large pot over a medium fire. Put the oil in and allow it to heat up.

3. When the oil is hot, it's time to burn the sugar. Put the brown sugar in and stir. Allow it to melt completely, then let it bubble for a moment, and then darken slightly. However, don't let it go on too long, as if it burns you'll need to start all over. If it burns, it will be very dark and smell like burning. You'll know.

4. When the sugar is browned, add the meat. Toss the meat to coat, and allow it to sear.

5. Throw in the thyme sprigs. Toss.

6. Dump everything into a slow cooker and add water until the meat is covered. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set your cooker on low and in about six hours, you'll have perfect oxtail.

Macaroni Pie

3 cups uncooked pasta
3.5 - 4 cups grated white cheddar cheese
1- 1.5 cups milk
1 egg
4 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp mustard*
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta. Drain.

2. Toss butter with hot pasta. You can also butter the baking dish, but it's not completely necessary.

3. Mix in cheese, onion, mustard, salt, and pepper, but reserve some cheese to sprinkle over the top. Empty mixture into baking dish.

4. Beat egg and milk together. Pour over the pasta mixture. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. (You can also sprinkle some breadcrumbs over the top if you'd like).

5. Bake at 375 degrees, for about 30 - 35 minutes, or just until the top is browned and the liquid milk is no longer visible.

*The mustard is my mother's thing. She swears that it makes you "taste the cheese more." I'm fuzzy on the reasoning behind this, but I like the end result, so I continue to add it.

Thanks for playing everyone. More to come soon.