Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jamaican Oxtails

JG pulled out this recipe from the NY Times a few weeks back, and I'd bought oxtails at the butcher shop across the way [which always has oxtails but rarely has turkey thighs] and threw them in the freezer so we'd be set when we decided it was time to proceed. It finally happened last Sunday, the apartment smelled amazing, and the flavor was quite good [if a little sweet for our taste]....

BUT... for some reason we actually followed the recipe on this one (well, I used a little less meat and twice as many beans) even though I was dubious of methodology outlined... and as a result I had to spend the better part of an hour scouring my enamel Dutch oven -- after an overnight soak -- and I'm afraid it'll never be the same again.

The problem was that I'm not really familiar with Jamaican cooking, aside from a few jerk chicken recipes. I have made blackened sugar before [it's the natural way to color dark rye bread], but because the particulars of the cuisine aren't totally familiar to me, I decided to trust the recipe and not my instincts. I didn't see any way we could effectively brown meat and aromatics in blackened sugar, but I thought, "Maybe I'll learn a wonderful new technique!" because I know the NY Times employs recipe testers verify these things... and I'm an incorrigible optimist...
... And it may well be that that is in fact how Jamaicans make their oxtails, but if so, I'd rank Jamaican restaurant dish washing as one of the worst jobs in the world.  We did not get our meat properly browned.  By the time the aromatics were only partially cooked, we started trying to deglaze for the love of our pot... to no avail.  When half of the sugar -- supposedly there for flavor -- turns to pure carbon that doesn't release when deglazing the pan,* I don't see how that benefits the dish or the cook. 
It was good though, and it introduced me to butter beans, which are huge and buttery [I think they'd be great in some kind of salad.], so I'm keeping the recipe... with these changes:

Steps 1-4:  Separately brown meat and veggies in oil, remove to large bowl, deglaze with ~1/2 cup water, scraping all the browned bits from the pot.  Pour deglazing liquid into the bowl and wipe cooking pot dry. Add brown sugar and blacken. Immediately add a couple cups of water, scraping to loosen from the bottom of the pot, then return meat, veggies, and juices to the pot.  Add additional water as needed to bring the water level 2/3 up the sides of the meat, then cook, covered, for 1 hour.*

Step 5: Omit sugar, substitute tomato paste for the listed ketchup (which has additional sugar or corn syrup)  After removing the thyme stems [our pepper disintegrated, but it wasn't too hot], let cool completely and refrigerate at least 4 hours or until the rendered fat solidifies enough to remove -- it'll be close to 1.5 cups of solid fat 
Step 6: Reheat with beans and serve with rice and pigeon peas [traditional] or green peas [colorful].

Leftovers: Shred any remaining meat [there's not a lot] into gravy and add additional butter or cannellini beans for meaty, brothy beans and rice.

Recipe: Simple Coconut Rice
We did make some pretty simple-but-good coconut rice to go with it by adding 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, chopped, to our regular brown rice recipe of:  2 cups short grain brown rice,  4 cups water and 1/2 tsp kosher salt, cooked ~50 minutes

*I actually thought, "Well, maybe since it's sugar it'll dissolve as it boils and this really is a wonderful technique!" but JG didn't think it was sugar anymore, just carbon.   He was right.

**If I hadn't had to clean the pot this time, I might have been willing to consider adding the sugar with the meat and letting it caramel as the meat seared, but I'll be playing it safe from here on out.

1 comment:

  1. AnonymousJune 06, 2015

    As the son in law of one of them, I can attest that Jamaican cooks are some of the cagiest folk there are, and those running a business, such as Golden Crust which was the source here, are even cagier. I can just see them trying to keep from bursting out in open laughter as they foisted that recipe on poor Sam Sifton.