Monday, November 30, 2009

September 2009: Slow Food and slow cooking

As September comes to a close, so does trout season. As an avid fly-fisher, I tend to think of the year revolving around the late April opening of trout season and the late September close. Now that the season is ending and the fly tying gear comes out to while away the non-fishing hours, it’s part of the annual cycle to reflect on the year’s fishing. One of the trips I make every year is to Lake Placid, New York with a couple of fly-fishing friends to spend a week fishing the famous Ausable River. And one of the friends who comes on that trip every year is an outstanding cook. Hence the connection to Slow Food.

Peter Sullivan loves to cook and worked for many years in the hospitality and culinary departments at Niagara College. Pete takes over all the cooking chores during the week on the Ausable, and for everyone who attends, the evening meals are always a highlight. Pete is the master of slow cooking. Not necessarily Slow Food as an organization (although I know that he would be in sync with most of the aims and ideals of the movement), but long-simmered, savoury meats that provide delicious comfort on cool autumn nights, or, for that matter, after standing in cold mountain water all day in May. And since we release all the fish we catch, Pete gets to indulge his passion for slow cooking.

Pete’s specialty is Oxtails, and I honestly don’t think I have ever tasted beef that is so rich and delicious. Oxtails have been part of human cuisine for as long as we have been eating meat and didn’t throw anything away when a beast was slaughtered (often after years of toiling in the fields). Originally they really were the tails of oxen, but these days they are cow tails. At one time the tails of beef cattle were almost throw-away items and could be had for next to nothing… not any more. With only one tail per cow, and with a growing number of ethnic cooks who are familiar with them, and cooks like Pete who know how good they are, Oxtails are difficult to come by and far from cheap. They make the best beef stock, wonderful soups, and thick, hearty stews, but all Oxtail recipes depend on taking lots of time to make the tough meat fully tender and to extract the thick gelatin that lies in the marrow and connective tissue of the bones.

Pete is such a confident cook that his recipe for superb Oxtails varies from year to year, depending on what is available and what interests him. But this is a recipe that combines Pete’s ingredients and techniques to produce comfort food par excellence. Serve it with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh bread to soak up the delicious juice.

Pete’s Oxtails

Thoroughly brown about 3 to 4 pounds of Oxtails in hot olive oil, then remove the Oxtails and add 2 or 3 chopped onions, 4 chopped cloves of garlic, and 3 carrots chopped into ½ inch pieces. When they are soft (about 5 minutes), add enough Bovril to cover (about 2 cups) and 2 Tbsp of Grace’s Jerk Sauce. (Alternately, instead of the Bovril and Jerk Sauce, add a large can of tomatoes and a cup of red wine, 1½ teaspoons of ground ginger, salt and pepper to taste, and some cayenne if you like.) Heat to boiling and add the Oxtails. Transfer the pot to a 275 degree oven and cook for 2 to 3 hours. When the meat is falling off the bone, use a slotted spoon to transfer the Oxtails to a dish and skim the fat from the liquid. Serve the Oxtails with the juice on the side to spoon over. Just as good (maybe better) when heated up the next day.

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