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 (
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
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.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.