Haute cuisine for the Middle Class
In my youth we used to eat oxtail soup as the first course of our Christmas dinner. My mother did not really like cooking, so the rest of the year our dinner fare was simple. If she did serve soup, it was prepared from a can or stock cube. But the oxtail soup she cooked as it should be: from a real oxtail. The soup was even more festive because of the glass of Madeira that was added to it just before serving.
The oxtail is the most mobile part of a cow. Even if the animal is standing quietly in a meadow, its tail is constantly swishing. Would that be why oxtail meat has such a rich taste? Anyhow, this year I served oxtail soup to my father with Christmas.
This is not a historical recipe, I did not research it in depth. However, it seems that the idea to use oxtail for preparing stock has occurred to people in several places on Earth. What I found remarkable is that the English Wikipedia presents an extensive article on oxtail soup, but not word on this subject can be found in the French Wikipedia. There seems to exist a French ‘Soupe de queu de boeuf’ according to several recipe-websites, but these invariable add ‘oxtail soup’ or ‘Ochsenschwanzsuppe’ to the recipe title. The French stew their oxtails. Oxtail soup is a foreign dish to them.
Speaking of the internet: I noticed many recipes for oxtail soup use stock cubes. What a pity. Stock from oxtail has such a rich taste, that it really does NOT need a cube that consists mainly of salt and additives. If you use that, your soup will taste about the same as any soup prepared with stock cubes.
There is plenty of meat on an oxtail. After preparing the stock, you can freeze the meat you won’t use in serving the soup with some added stock. Use this to prepare divine kroketten or bitter balls!
For 1½ to 3 litres stock; preparation in advance 20 minutes; preparation 6 to 8 hours for the stock + degreasing, straining and reducing the stock.
1½ kilo (3 pounds) oxtail pieces
optionally the rind of a piece of smoked lard (butcher)
1 large carrot, scraped and sliced
1 parsley root, scraped and sliced
1 onion, not peeled but rinsed and quartered
piece of celeriac, peeled and sliced
1 tsp crushed black pepper corns
½ tsp crushed coriander seed
1 small piece of mace
a dash of Madeira
Preparation in advance
Preheat the oven to 180 °C/355 °F. Put the oxtail pieces, rind and sliced vegetables on a roasting tin and roast for twenty minutes in the oven.
Put meat, vegetables and spices in a large soup pan and add 5 litres/9 pints water. Bring the water to the boil and close the pan with a lid. Leave it for six to eight hours on a very slow fire. I use the smallest burner on the stove, use a simmer plate if neccessary. Strain the stock, degrease and reduce with about 50%. You started with about 5 litres/9 pints liquid (plus the liquid from the vegetables), you’ll end up with about 2.5 litres/4.5 pints. However, you can choose to reduce more (to 1.7 litres/3 pints) or less (to 3.3 litres/7 pints).
Do not add salt until the last stage of preparing the soup. I do not add it at all during the making of the stock, and if you have not ruined your taste-perception by excessive use of salt, you’ll find that you need to add very little of it.
Do not discard any leftover meat from the oxtail! The vegetables used in preparing the stock may have lost all taste and nourishing value, but the meat is very tasty. It will take some time to pick out the pieces of meat from between the vegetables. However, I still got 375 gram excellent meat from 3 pounds of oxtail pieces, plus 200 gram less excellent meat and fat that I gave to the cats. They loved it, by the way!
The concentrated fumet or consommé does not need a lot of meat, if any. So I have posted a recipe for delicious Dutch Bitterballen (small croquettes) with oxtail meat.
The reduced oxtail stock can be served as a consommé (after clarifying the stock), with some of the meat and a dash of Madeira. Alternatively, serve the Madeira separately. It is not customary to drink wine or other liquids while eating soup, because that is liquid too. However, intensily flavoured consommé can be accompanied with, for exemple, good quality Madeira, Cream Sherry or Portwine.
For creamy oxtail soup, look here.
Strain the stock, and reduce to two litres, then let it cool quickly. Now you can freeze what you don’t need immediately.
Do not forget to label your frozen stock, in the freezer all stocks look (and smell) alike.
Recipe for festive clear oxtail soup