From the Culinary Underground: The year of the snake

[This is the latest in an ongoing guest series brought to you by Southborough’s Culinary Underground. In this installment, Chef Lori shares a recipe to help keep the cold at bay.]

This is not salad weather. (Is it ever? We all have our personal bugaboos, and salad is one of mine.). This is comfort-food weather – you want something fragrant, hot, and savory to take the chill out of your bones. And munching on a bowl of grass clippings won’t do that.

It’s also time to celebrate Chinese New Year – the year of the snake. In Chinese medicine, consuming snake is believed to strengthen the immune system. Maybe a nice braised snake soup would ward off the flu, but I had my flu shot, so we’ll no be skinning any snakes.

Instead, I offer an oxtail stew, perfect for the slow cooker (or pressure cooker, if that’s your thing). If you’ve never had oxtail, it’s a treat; makes the best soup stock, being very gelatinous, but it’s great braised, too. It seems to have fallen out of favor as an ingredient, but it needs a comeback along the lines of the vogue that short ribs have been enjoying in recent years.

The ingredients here can be found in any well-stocked grocery store – no need to seek out an Asian market. Even the star anise is easy to find but if you can’t locate it, just throw in a cinnamon stick instead. This is great with steamed rice and a green like bok choy or broccolini on the side. But not salad. Never salad.

Chinese Oxtail Stew
(4-6 servings)

3 pounds oxtails
Sea salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Cup chicken stock
1/4 Cup dry sherry
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
2 star anise
2 whole cloves
2-3 strips of orange or tangerine peel
2 green onions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
3 slices of fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon red chili flakes

Pat the oxtails dry with paper towels and season with salt and peppers. In a large skillet, heat the oil over MEDIUM-HIGH heat; brown the oxtails in batches, turning once, until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a slow cooker.

Add the chicken stock to the skillet; deglaze, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Pour over the oxtails.

Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours.

Transfer the oxtails to a bowl. Strain the sauce into a saucepan and reduce over HIGH heat until thickened. Alternatively, simple make a slurry of 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with 1 Tablespoon water and stir into the sauce; cook until thickened.

Pour sauce over the oxtails, scatter the green onions over them, and serve with steamed white rice.

Culinary Underground School for Home Cooks is committed to furthering the art and craft of home cooking through engaging and educational hands-on and demonstrations classes. Using the best seasonal ingredients, mastering techniques, minimizing prep, and maximizing flavor are the focus of their classes. For more information and a class schedule, visit culinaryunderground.com.

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