Braised, Stuffed Oxtail

Queue de Boeuf Farcie Braisée

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Servings:

    4

Appears in

Simple French Food

By Richard Olney

Published 1974

  • About

The preparation is relatively long, requiring a couple of hours’ preliminary work and, in all, some 6 hours’ attention on the following day, the last 2 of which should be more or less undivided. The result is attractive but unprepossessing in appearance; the flavors are sumptuous, well worth the time spent. Served cold, it is an altogether different experience—and at least as good. If a section is left over, choose a small oval terrine just large enough to contain it without forcing; if to be unmolded, line the bottom with the remaining braised vegetables and braising liquid, placing the section of tail on this bed; if to be sliced and served directly from the terrine, place the meat first in the bottom, pouring vegetables and juices atop, then pour over to cover the remaining reduced stock —doctored with a bit of sherry if desired—and refrigerate for a day.

It is of the greatest importance that the stock be undersalted, for it will be subjected to not only a reduction by half, doubling its salt content, but also a subsequent and continuing reduction during the final braising process. See its preparation: It can cook longer than a veal stock; maximum flavor will have been drawn from the ingredients after about 4 hours’ cooking time, but the bones will continue to release their gelatin for several hours longer. I usually put it to cook as soon as the tail is boned, simmering it for 3, 4, or 5 hours, leave it to cool overnight, degrease it, add more water if necessary, and simmer it for several hours longer before straining it.

The truffle may be eliminated from the stuffing (a breath of its soul will be sacrificed); mushrooms or duxelles may be added, but should not be thought of as a substitute, for they bear no relation, one to the other. If the truffle is retained, best prepare the stuffing the previous day, refrigerating it overnight, so that its perfume may permeate the mixture.

The size and shape of the cooking vessels should both correspond to those of the stuffed tail, that used for poaching the wrapped and tied tail representing about twice the volume of the oval cocotte used for the final braising; the flesh shrinks radically during the first cooking process, and when braised (further shrinking is imperceptible) it should be contained in a receptacle permitting partial immersion by a minimum of reduced stock.

To Bone an Oxtail

In guise of instruction, the cookbooks say, “Bone an oxtail without piercing the flesh.” The practitioner who is able to bone an oxtail without ever piercing the flesh is a rare bird; I know none. The flesh is tough and sinuous and the cartilaginous extremities of the vertebral joints are not tender and easily sliced through as in smaller and younger animals. Even using a small, razor-sharp, and sharply pointed paring knife (a boning knife is too large to work with precision), it is practically impossible to avoid the knife’s slipping from time to time. Furthermore, as one progresses down the tail, the spinal protuberances themselves often tend to pierce the flesh’s surface, sheathed only by a taut, tough and sheer membrane. The lesson to be drawn from this is not to worry; do the best you can, but do not imagine that a few slits here and there are a disaster.

Only the first six joints are boned, the terminal third of the tail (8 or 10 inches) being cut off and joined to the bones for preparing the stock. The vertebral extremities touch the surface of the flesh on the top and on the underside the entire length of the tail; the sides, at the upper half, are fleshy and pose no problem. The tail should be boned from the underside, slit open, following a median line described by the points at which the bones touch the flesh’s surface. It is useless to attempt to describe the complex form of the bones to be removed (there are five major protrusions to each vertebra whose contours should be closely followed); the first and largest at the fleshy base of the tail is easily removed and can be studied, the better to know what to expect from the succeeding and progressively smaller units. The cartilaginous attachment at each joint is easily sliced through and each bone should be removed as it is freed from the flesh. Work mostly with the tip of the knife, scraping and keeping the blade tip always in contact with the bone—go carefully when approaching the flesh surface and, as soon as bone gives way to cartilage, slice through, leaving the cartilage embedded in the flesh. The boned tail, its tip cut off, should describe an elongated triangle some 10 to 12 inches wide at the fleshy base and 18 to 20 inches in length.

Ingredients

  • 1 boned oxtail

Marinade

  • Finely crumbled mixed dried herbs (thyme, oregano, savory)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine

Stuffing

  • 6 ounces chopped beef marrow (pried out of the bone with a knife, not poached)
  • 8 ounces lean chopped beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and pureed
  • 3 ounces fresh or stale (but not dry) breadcrumbs (without crusts)
  • ½ teaspoon finely crumbled (or freshly powdered) mixed dried herbs
  • Handful finely chopped parsley
  • 1 large truffle, coarsely chopped (or finely chopped truffle peel)
  • Salt, pepper, pinch ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac
  • 1 egg
  • 2½ to 3 quarts stock (prepared from the bones, the emptied marrow bone, and any available lean beef trimmings)
  • 6 to 8 ounces each sweet onions and carrots, peeled and chopped or cubed into a coarse brunoise (½- to ⅓-inch squares)

Method

Sprinkle the meat lightly on both sides with herbs and put to marinate, turned well and folded in the oil and the wine, in a covered crock, refrigerated, overnight.

The firmness of the stuffing is important and is ensured by the marrow’s being well chilled. If it has not been prepared in advance and chilled, be certain that both meat and marrow are chilled and thoroughly combine all the ingredients, using a fork rather than your hands, whose warmth would soften the mixture.

Remove the tail from its marinade and spread it out, boned side facing up, on a square of cloth (that will be used for wrapping it up before being tied—I use old sheets, torn into squares). Mound the stuffing evenly along the center of the upper two thirds of the tail, fold the lower third in a flap up and over the surface of the stuffing, draw the edges of the tail together at the point where the flap has been folded, running the trussing needle and a 2½-foot length of string through, tie the far end of the string in a knot and sew up the length of the tail and the opening at the wide base, spiral-wise, piercing the edges at approximately 1-inch intervals. Clip the string, leaving several inches hanging free. The stuffing will be loosely contained in the sewn-up tail; despite the important loss of fat from the marrow, the stuffing will swell somewhat, whereas the flesh of the tail shrinks. Don’t worry if a bit of stuffing is visible through inadvertent slits. Wrap gently but firmly, the cloth pulled tight, gathering together and twisting the cloth at one end of the package and tying it tightly. Loop the string 3 or 4 times around the length as if tying up a roast, tie the other end of the cloth, gathered and twisted, and clip off any excess. Place the package in its pot, pour over the marinade, and enough warm but not boiling stock to cover well (if you have not quite enough stock, add water). Bring to the boiling point and adjust the heat so that the liquid will just simmer, counting 2½ hours from the time that a continued simmer has been reached. Carefully lift off all the fat from the surface two or three times during the last hour of poaching (there will be a good cupful).

Remove the wrapped tail to a platter (or, better, to a small pastry grill placed on a platter), clip the strings, unwrap it, permitting the cloth to drain, and leave the meat to drain while reducing the stock and sweating the vegetables. The liquid drained from the wrapping cloth and the piece of meat will be very fatty; it can be poured into a bowl, chilled, the fat removed in a piece, and added to the leftover stock later.

Skim the stock, a light boil maintained at one half of the surface, pulling the skin that forms to the other side with a tablespoon and removing it, repeatedly, over a period of about ½ hour. Lift loose floating fat from the surface with absorbent paper. When no more traces of fat are visible and a skin no longer readily forms on the surface, turn the flame high and reduce at a rolling boil to about half of its original volume.

Scatter the brunoise of onions and carrots in the bottom of the cocotte that will serve for braising the tail (no fat, no liquid, no seasoning) and put, covered, into a 350° oven for about ½ hour, checking from time to time—they should sweat and become semitender without coloring. Remove the lid and leave them for another 5 or 10 minutes or until they just begin to stick to the bottom, a suggestion of golden edges appearing here and there.

Place the drained tail, sewn side down, on the bed of vegetables, ladle over enough hot reduced stock to immerse the meat by from one half to two thirds (if the cocotte is just large enough to contain it at ease, only something over half of the remaining stock will be necessary), and braise at a bare simmer for an additional 2 or 2¼ hours, basting every 10 or 15 minutes, the first hour covered over a low heat, and the second hour uncovered in a 325° to 350° oven. Use a tiny ladle for basting and, during the period in the oven, take care to scoop up vegetables with the braising liquid, scattering them over the surface so that they, as well as the surface of the meat, will acquire a rich, caramelized glaze.

Remove carefully, with spatulas, to a heated serving platter, clip the string at the knot, pulling gently from the other end while holding the meat in place, to remove it. Serve the remaining vegetables and braising liquid apart in a preheated sauceboat.

undefined