Monday, January 9, 2017

Caribbean Stewed Oxtail with Corn Meal Mush and Pigeon Peas

     A Simple Savory Slow Cooked Oxtail Entrée!
     A few Haitian cooks that I worked with in Florida restaurants liked to make this recipe for their own dinner.  Personal employee meals are just that, so I never had a chance to taste the island style home cooking while on the job, yet I remembered how the dish turned out.  
     Sometime later, a Haitian refugee was a roommate of mine while working at an English pub.  He cooked this same oxtail recipe for his dinner one night.  I was offered a taste of the stewed oxtails and corn meal mush.  For a such a simple plate of food, the flavor was exceptionally great!
     Originally I called this recipe by the name "Haitian Stewed Oxtail with Corn Meal Mush and Pigeon Peas."  To call this a Haitian recipe may be misleading, but it may be partially correct.  Is this style of slow cooked oxtail a Haitian specialty?  One would assume so, if all they ever saw was Haitian cooks making this dish.  
     As it turns out, this style of slow cooked oxtail is just simple home cooking that really has no nationality attached to its origin.  African? ... Maybe it is, since cattle come from that continent.  Because Scotch Bonnet Pepper is part of the recipe, the Caribbean Islands get the nod, as far as the origin of the recipe is concerned.         
     Only one Green Scotch Bonnet Pepper was used to flavor the stew.  After stewing for an extended time, the mellow spicy heat of the unripe Bonny Pepper was thoroughly infused throughout the oxtail meat.  Honestly, this simple stewed oxtail entrée needs no additional flavors, because it is perfect the way that it is.  
     Corn Meal Mush is traditional in the Caribbean Islands and this starchy accompaniment has a down home reputation.  Corn Meal Mush sticks to the ribs and it provides long lasting energy, for a very thrifty price.  In fine dining restaurants Corn Meal Mush is called Polenta, while down home folk simply call it what it really is ... Corn Meal Mush!  Just like Polenta, Corn Meal Mush is usually flavored with additional ingredients to make it taste more appealing.  Some of the oxtail stewing jus is added to the Corn Meal Mush to enhance the flavor.       
     Haitian Stewed Oxtail:
     This recipe yields 1 large hearty portion.
     Looks can be deceiving, because large pieces of oxtail are over 50% bone and cartilage.  The actual weight of the oxtail meat is about 10 ounces.  
     Oxtail is cattle tail.  This offal used to sell for a very low price.  During the last two decades consumer demand has driven the cost sky high, so be prepared for some sticker shock when shopping for oxtail!  Oxtail offers a high nutritional value, because when stewed, it is a source of easy to digest cartilaginous compounds.    
     A green unripe Scotch Bonnet Peppers is much less spicy hot than a ripe yellow one.  The seeds can be removed to make the pepper even milder.  If Scotch Bonnet Peppers are not available, then substitute a green unripe Habanero Pepper.
     Step 1:  Heat a wide sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (or lard).
     Add 3 or 4 large oxtail pieces.  (about 16 ounces)
     Sauté till the oxtail pieces are lightly browned on all sides.
     Step 2:  Add 1/3 cup of chopped onion.
     Add 1 coarsely chopped green onion.
     Add 1 chopped Green Scotch Bonnet Pepper.    
     Sauté till the onions are caramelized and the oxtails are thoroughly browned.
     Step 3:  Add 2 1/2 cups of beef broth.
     Add enough water to cover the oxtails with 1" of extra liquid.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Step 4:  Raise the temperature to medium high heat.
     Bring the broth to a boil.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer the oxtails till the meat is tender enough to pull away from the bones.  (About 2 hours.)
     Allow the broth to simmer and reduce till it has a very rich flavor.  Be sure to turn the oxtails in the broth occasionally as the broth reduces.  (The finished volume of stewing jus will be about 1 1/2 cups.)
     Keep the stewed oxtails warm over very low heat.      
     Corn Meal Mush (Oxtail Flavored): 
     This recipe yields 2 cups.  (1 large portion)
     A portion of fat and broth must be skimmed out of the stewed oxtail pot, to flavor the corn meal mush!
     Step 1:  Boil 2 cups of water in a sauce pot over medium high heat,.
     Add 1/2 cup of corn meal while stirring with a whisk.
     Constantly whisk till no lumps appear and the corn meal absorbs most of the water.
     Step 2:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Skim 2 tablespoons of the fat off of the simmering oxtail broth.  (dégraisser)
     Add the oxtail grease to the corn meal mush.
     Add 2 tablespoons of the oxtail stewing broth.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Step 3:  Gently simmer and stir occasionally, till the corn meal mush is a smooth thick consistency that can be gathered with a spoon.  (Add water if the corn meal mush becomes too stiff.)
     Step 4:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Place the corn mush in a star tipped pastry bag.
     Keep the pastry bag warm on a stove top or in a 135ºF bain marie.
     Pigeon Peas:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     A little bit of the oxtail stewing broth and fat is needed for this recipe too!
     Step 1:  Place one cup of rinsed cooked dried pigeon peas (or rinsed canned pigeon peas) in a sauce pot.
     Cover the pigeon peas with water.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Step 2:  Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Step 3:  Skim 1 tablespoon of the oxtail broth and fat from the stew pot and add it to the pigeon peas.
     Gently simmer the pigeon peas till they are very tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.
     Keep the pigeon peas warm over very low heat.
     Caribbean Stewed Oxtail with Corn Meal Mush and Pigeon Peas:
     This recipe yields 1 hearty entrée.
     Step 1:  Carefully use a slotted spoon to place the stewed oxtails on the front half of a plate.  (Try to keep the tender meat attached to the bones.)
     Spoon a generous amount of the thin rich stewing sauce over the oxtails.
     Step 2:  Use the pastry bag to pipe 1 large portion of the Corn Meal mush on the back half of the plate.
     Spoon the Pigeon Peas on the plate around the corn meal mush.

     This is one of the simplest, yet tastiest oxtail entrées that there is!

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