after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Oxtail Chili (and Pasta Sauce) (with pics)

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t says: g makes a mean chili.  She even puts up with my absurd moods when she makes chili, including my desire to minimize ground beef consumption.  g often took it one direction and went for a ground turkey and shrimp chili with lots of veggies – it was a lighter, “fitter” chili that tasted very good.  But then, one day, I decided that I wanted to bring back the beef …  without using ground beef.  I wanted chunks of beef!  But it’d be weird to just cook up a steak and add it to chili.  Plus, when we make chili, we make a whole mess of it and eat it for a couple of meals, so the beef chunks would have to withstand a trip to the fridge and a few minutes in the microwave.  I don’t know what your experience is, but steaks in my hands never do well in the microwave.  So … chunks of beef that need to stay tender? Time to whip out one of my favorite pieces of cookware … the Dutch oven!

But which piece of meat to braise?  I already had a recipe using short rib, so that was out.  And I kind of wanted something manlier for a chili – I wanted the kind of meat that would put hair on your chest.  I turned to oxtail.  That’s right – oxtail – it even sounds manly!  It also has a nice strong beef flavor that won’t be easily lost in our mish-mash that we call chili.  Actually, when we first made it, we braised the oxtail and then used both the meat and the braising liquid as the foundation for our chili.  Yikes!  The oxtail easily overpowered everything else in the chili!  That was not so great because we actually wanted to taste vegetables or other meats (i.e. we tried shrimp and oxtail … yea … the shrimp didn’t stand a chance).  So what I now do is braise the oxtail and then use the meat for one dish (i.e. chili) and the braising liquid for another (i.e. pasta sauce, aka “gravy”).  Now, g and her mom both make some pretty mean gravies – there’s no way I can compete with theirs.  This is more like a Korean’s attempt at making gravy, so I’m calling it “pasta sauce”.

Note that one could actually braise the meat one day (thus producing the pasta sauce) and then reserve the meat to complete the chili the next day.  Alternatively, one could just braise the oxtail and combine the meat and braising liquid to make a REALLY meaty pasta sauce, unlike my recent experience at Melograno.  Or you could just make it all a chili.  To each his/her own.

Note that this chili would be disqualified from an actual chili competition due to our use of beans and “filler” (i.e. rice), but we’re still gonna call it chili … in your face International Chili Society.  Also – we are not spice connoisseurs – so pardon our paltry collection of supermarket spices and feel free to use whatever spices you like to put in chili – we just use what we have.  Finally, we do used canned corn and beans for convenience, however, if you have the time/patience, soak some dried beans [for several hours] and roast some corn-on-the-cob – it tastes better and is healthier!


For the gravy (makes enough for 0.75 lbs of pasta)

1 package (2-3 lbs) of oxtail (short rib probably works, too)

1 can (~28 oz) crushed tomatoes (Tuttoroso is best, Wegman’s is satisfactory, Hunt’s is abysmal)

3 big (or 4 small) cloves of garlic, freshly finely minced

50% of 1 large onion, diced

0.75 cup alcohol (red wine is nice, but I’ve used vodka, vermouth, white wine …)

leftover rind from slab of parmigiana reggiano cheese (or you could just use a half-cup of cheese)

salt, pepper

0.25 tsp baking soda

<0.5 c canola oil

Mis-en-place in place.

For the chili

0.75-1 lb Italian pork sausage, casings removed

1 cans (28 oz ea.) crushed tomatoes

1 can corn, liquid removed

1 can black beans, liquid removed

1 can kidney beans, liquid removed

<1 pint of leftover white rice from the fridge (like “small” size you get at Chinese takeout)

1 jalapeno pepper

50% of 1 large onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, “diced” (are you allowed to call it “diced” if the resultant pieces are not cubes?)

1 red bell pepper, “diced”

Shredded cheese (cheddar, monterey jack, whatever)

Seasoning: salt, pepper, cumin, “chili” powder, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, srirarcha

Bread: optional


0) Remove oxtails from fridge and allow to come to room temp as you cut your vegetables. Preheat oven to 315 degrees. Put Dutch oven on stovetop, and slowly turn up the heat to medium-high.

1) When the Dutch oven is ready, season oxtails with salt and pepper.  Add oil to the bottom of the Dutch oven – use just enough to so that an even pool just covers the entire bottom.  Sear the oxtails (in batches) until nice and brown on all sides. Set aside. As you sear the last side of the last batch of oxtail, turn the heat down to medium-low.

2) Add 50% of the onion (i.e. all that is designated for the gravy) to the Dutch oven and cook until the onions get a little color and become translucent. Add the  garlic, and cook until fragrant (but you don’t want the garlic to burn).

3) Add the alcohol and scrape the bottom of the Dutch oven to release those brown bits.  As you do so, turn down the heat to low.  Cook until the liquid reduces by half.  Add half of the can of tomatoes and mix.  Add the cheese.  Nestle the oxtail and drippings into the pot.  Continue adding crushed tomatoes (including some on top of the oxtail) until the liquid reaches half-way up the oxtails.  Heat until the liquid just starts bubbling.

4) Cover Dutch oven with lid and place vessel into oven. Check in 20 minutes. If bubbling too vigorously or not at all, reduce or increase the heat by 10 degrees and check again in 20 minutes and repeat until playfully (not vigorously) simmering.  Cook for ~3 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and starts to pull away from the bone, flipping hourly.  You know you’re there if as you try to flip the tails, the meat just separates from the bone without much provocation.  Don’t worry if during the first 2 hours that the meat seems extremely tough – it’ll get there – I promise.

The braise goes on ...

5) Remove Dutch oven from the oven and let it rest, uncovered for 10 minutes.  Remove oxtail and rest it aside in a foil-tented bowl for 20 minutes or until cool enough so that if it touches your finger, you won’t suffer 3rd degree burns.  When ready, shred the oxtail into chunks using two forks – it’ll peel away from the bone quite easily.  I tend to also look out for excessive cartilage/fat and remove them the best I can.  Now, it’s decision time for the meat.  Option A: You could save it in the fridge until the next day to complete the recipe.  When you take it out of the fridge, the meat will appear very stiff and tough – but it’ll relax and be tender as soon as you heat it – don’t worry!  Option B:  You could use it in a chili right now!

Shreds in the bowl, bones on the plate.

6)  Siphon off the majority of the fat from the braising liquid (or spoon it off or soak it up using a paper towel).  Remove the cheese rind if that’s what you used.  Add the baking soda and mix.  VOILA!  You have braising liquid!  The decision what to do with it is yours.  Option 1:  you could just add the oxtail to the gravy right now and have a full-on meat sauce or a hearty chili, but what’s the fun in that?  I feel that the gravy will tasty meaty enough without the meat – save the meat for the chili!  Option D: you could reserve the braising liquid to serve as a gravy on its own.  I like to put the sauce it in the freezer for later use.  To thaw frozen sauce, I stick it into a pot under medium-low heat, add a little bit of water just to cover the bottom – this prevents the sauce from burning as it defrosts.  When the block of gravy has melted, taste it and see if it needs more cheese.  Add your favorite [cooked] pasta shape and enjoy!  Now … back to the chili …

7) After removing the braising liquid, wipe down the interior of the Dutch oven – you don’t have to be fastidious – you just don’t want the stuck-on sauce to burn. Heat slowly to medium-high.

8) Put 1 Tbsp canola oil into the Dutch oven. Add the sausage.  If you need, you can brown the ground meat in batches – you want to avoid overcrowding, otherwise you’ll be boiling/steaming the meat, not browning it.  Set meat aside.

9)  Cook onions in the sausage fat in the Dutch oven until onions take on some color and become tender and translucent.  Add the peppers and cook only until they just start getting tender (i.e. cook them only half way to where you would cook them if you were going to enjoy a pepper sandwich).  Add the second can of crushed tomatoes.  Add corn and beans.  Add the rice (the way we make it, we don’t like the rice to outnumber the beans, so we use 2-3 spoonfuls total – but add as much as you want!).  Bring the chili back to a bubble.  Add the meats!

10)  In a separate ungreased pan at medium-high heat, roast the jalapeno directly on the pan  until soft and black in spots.  Cool, then pull the stems from the chiles.  Cut into pieces (removing remaining seeds).  Add as much of the jalapano as you want to the Dutch oven.

11)  Time for the fun – seasoning with all of those powders we mentioned.  This is really done to taste.  I’d start off with 0.5-1 tsp of each and then fixing from there.  Just be patient, mix thoroughly, and enjoy the fun of tasting it!

12)  Serve up some chili and sprinkle on some cheese.  Enjoy with bread!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

2 June 2010 at 11:49am

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