We are fortunate to have only a few weeks of cold weather in the Lowcountry. Late January and early February, though, can be awfully cold when the rains set in and the temperature hovers at freezing for several weeks. I can remember when few houses were built for the cold, and it slipped in through the windows, under the doors, and through floors and chimneys. It takes only about 3 consecutive cold, gray winter days here before I buy some oxtail joints and make a stew. Oxtail is full of bones, but the meat is indescribably rich and sweet. It is one of my favorite flavors, and it cooks for hours on end, warming the house.

These days oxtails are usually sold already cut up into 2-inch joints, weighing about ½ pound each. Buy at least one joint for each serving. Oxtail dishes are all the more flavorful when begun a day in advance.

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Ingredients

  • ½ cup unbleached (all-purpose) flour
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 or 5 (about 2 pounds) oxtail joints, cut into pieces about 2 inches long
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 bouquet garni1 celery rib, 1 bay leaf, 1 thyme sprig, and 1 sprig of fresh parsley—or 1 teaspoon Herbal Mix
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, cut into -inch pieces
  • 4 medium onions, peeled and quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 cups full-bodied red wine
  • 2 cups beef, veal, chicken, vegetable stock, or water
  • ½ pound small fresh mushrooms, stems removed

Method

Early in the day or the day before, season the flour with salt and pepper and toss the oxtail pieces in it to coat them lightly, reserving any remaining flour. In a Dutch oven, melt half the butter and add the bouquet garni, carrots, onions, and oxtail pieces. Sauté them over medium heat until everything is richly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and remaining flour and stir until the mixture is smooth. Add the wine and stock, mix well again, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot tightly, and simmer slowly on top of the stove or in a slow (300-325°) oven for about 3 hours. Remove the oxtail pieces from the pot, strain the sauce into a bowl, and discard the vegetables. If you plan to serve a casual meal with the stew as dinner, leave the meat on the bones of the oxtail. If you plan to serve it over noodles, pick the meat from the bones. Refrigerate overnight or continue the recipe from this point.

Two hours before serving, remove any fat that has risen to the surface of the sauce, then reduce it in a saucepan until it has the consistency of cream. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven, add the mushrooms, and sauté over medium-high heat until they begin to lose their water, about 15 minutes. Add the meat and the sauce to the pot, cover tightly, and cook over low heat on top of the stove or in a slow oven for another 1½ to 2 hours. Let your nose be your guide to when the stew is done; when I smell it, I put the noodles in their pot. Serve hot over egg noodles, preferably homemade. A historical recipe follows.

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