If you are a regular reader of our blog, perhaps you remember this post on my husband’s near-death by gluttony as he ate his way through a giant Asturian meal – fabada. While I had to listen to his groans and watch the thick beads of sweat roll down the side of his head as he attempted to finish his meal, I quietly sat with a giant smile on my face as I tucked into one of the best meals I ate in Spain – Asturian Bulls Tail (Rabo de Toro). It must have been cooked for a long time because the meat melted in my mouth. The sauce was rich and flavorful and the itty-bitty fried potatoes added the perfect texture balance and soaked up the sauce while still remaining crunchy. While the husband suffered in glee, I concentrated on figuring out how I was going to make the meal I was eating at home.
A Picture of My Meal in Madrid
There is a difference between rabo de buey (oxtail) and rabo de toro (bull’s tail). I’m sure I do not have to spell it out for you, but I will – one is the tail of an ox, the other is the tail of the bull. They are both beef (bovine), but the main difference is the size of each animal (oxen are usually bigger and stronger because they are used for work purposes) and the fact that a bull is always male.
In Spain it is not rare to eat bull’s tail. It is almost like a perfect pairing of cultural events and food. In the bull-fighting ring, the toreros (or matadores) begin the first of the three stages of the corrida de toros (or running of the bulls). When it is all over, and if the matador has done his job well, they will choose to spare the life of the bull if it has fought nobly or the bull will be killed. You can understand why this very old tradition is controversial. Up the street from the ring you’ll find many restaurants serving various parts of the bull, connecting the Spanish sporting culture with its food culture.
Our Recreated Meal Made in Brooklyn
Since we could not find bull’s tail in our local grocer, we settled for oxtail. As you can imagine, oxtail has been eaten for ages. Back in the day, there was a time when no bit of the animal went to waste (I feel like we’re starting to come back to that way of cooking here in America). Did you know that oxtail is offal? I didn’t, until my husband let me know. I think this is possibly because there’s so much meat on the bone. When I think of offal I usually think of bits of the animal that are either inside or parts like ears, feet and neckbones that do not contain much meat. I am happy to report that oxtail is delicious and meaty with bones that have so much flavor, they make an excellent stock. Because oxen are stronger and more muscular, slow cooking is best to tenderize the meat.
Without a recipe, I recreated the dish I ate at Casa Portal in Madrid from memory. Without getting too big of an ego here, I have to say, I nailed the shit out of this dish. It was one of my most favorite home-cooked meals of the last six months. It did take some time to cook, but the prep is very easy. It’s all about getting it into the pan and letting the flame do the work. The sauce was a bit thicker than the one I ate in Madrid, but I kind of liked it that way. With the spring and summer months ahead, this is one of the last winter-like meals I will prepare for awhile. I really advise you to give oxtail a try, you will not be disappointed.
ASTURIAN OXTAIL WITH SMALL FRIED POTATOES (serves 2 to 4)
Ingredients for Part 1 (Braising the Oxtail):
- 4 lbs oxtail (about 6 pieces)
- 1 onion, cut in thick slices
- 2 carrots, cut in thick slices
- 1 stalk celery, cut in thick slices
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 2 sprigs of parsley, roughly chopped
- salt and pepper
Ingredients for Part 2 (Making the Sauce):
- 1 1/2 inch round of pancetta, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (ask your deli man to just slice a big hunk for you) or 6 rashes of bacon, chopped
- 1 cup oxtail stock (made from part 1)
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 1/2 cups red wine
- 1 1/2 tsp pimenton (paprika)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- Optional: 1 tablespoon flour (sieved into sauce) or cornstarch (mixed with some water and then stirred into sauce)
For the Potatoes:
- 3 large baking potatoes
- vegetable oil for frying
What to do:
- Saute the outside of the oxtail in some olive oil in a deep casserole dish. After they are a bit browned on the edges, barely cover them with water.
Add all the rest of your ingredients and bring to a boil. When it comes to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for three to four hours.
- After three hours, remove your oxtail carefully and place on a platter. Strain your oxtail stock so the liquid and the vegetables are separated. Remove the bay leaf. Skim some of the fat off the stock.
- In the same deep casserole, saute your pancetta/bacon on medium in some olive oil. After about a minute, add your onion and garlic. When they have softened add your paprika and stir.
- Add your wine and scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan.
- After scraping up the bits, add your oxtail stock and beef stock along with the oxtail and the vegetables that cooked in the stock in part 1. Stir.
- Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook for another hour.
- Twenty minutes before finishing the oxtail, heat up vegetable oil. Peel your potatoes and slice into 1/2 inch slices, lengthwise. Then, cut each of those slices lengthwise another 1/2 inch so you have what looks like a french fry. Cut all your potatoes into thin french fries then take the fries and slice them each into little 1/2 squares. When ready to fry, it will take between 4 to 6 minutes to fry until golden brown. You will remove from the oil and allow to drain on a paper towel. Salt while still hot.
- Now, back to the oxtail. After the hour is over, remove your oxtail again to the platter. Using a stick blender or regular blender, puree your sauce. Put back into casserole to keep warm. Taste for seasoning adding salt if necessary. If you would like it thicker, add the optional flour or the cornstarch.
- When your fries are done, you are ready to plate! Place the oxtail, one or two per person, depending on how meaty each is, and pour the sauce around it. Add your salted square fries and you’re ready to dine. Buon Appetit!