Undervalued cuts prove worth with long cooking

The most budget-friendly meats don’t offer much in the way of “meat” at all.

Cooks can expect lots of bone, tendon, gristle, sinew and — if they’re lucky — marrow. Almost indigestible when raw or undercooked, these undervalued bits become delightfully chewy, jiggly and wiggly, even creamy and silky when rendered, braised and stewed over low heat for hours and hours. And their flavor is deeply savory.

If handled correctly, beef shanks, ham hocks, lamb necks and oxtails are the foundations of economical meals that also are hearty and nutritious. So runs the logic behind my “Smart Ways With Meat” cooking class, discussed in this blog’s previous post. When I brainstormed with ACCESS’ Cooking Skills Coordinator how to put on the class within our budget, the aforementioned cuts surfaced.

Of course, many aren’t as cheap as they used to be as American farmhouse, Southern and ethnic comfort foods have regained popularity with a new generation, including chefs that are commanding top dollar for dishes of offal and marrow bones.

I’ve seen oxtails prominently displayed in the butcher section at Medford’s Food 4 Less. Mexican grocers are another great source.  This recipe is from the Chicago Tribune.

Tribune News Service photo

Oxtail Stew

3 pounds oxtails

1 cup flour

Salt and pepper, as needed

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled smashed, minced

1 large onion, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced into ¼-inch slices

1/2 cup red wine

2 cups diced tomatoes with juice, or 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 to 2 cups beef broth

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks

3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and cut into large chunks

Working in batches, add the oxtails to a large, zip-close bag filled with the flour, heavily seasoned with the salt and pepper; shake to coat oxtails generously with flour. Transfer the floured oxtails to a plate; discard the flour.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add oxtails and brown them on all sides, for about 3 minutes per side. Transfer oxtails to a plate and set aside.

Add the garlic and onion to Dutch oven, and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and translucent, for about 5 minutes. Add the wine, and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Cook until wine has almost evaporated, for about 5 minutes.

Return oxtails to pot. Add the tomatoes and enough of the beef broth to cover. Break the bay leaves in half and tuck them between oxtails. Bring to a boil, decrease heat to a simmer, cover and cook until meat is tender, for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Add the carrots and potatoes. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, for 45 to 60 minutes longer. Remove bay leaves and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

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