Thursday, 3 May 2012

Give Me Some Tail!

Imagine wondering around a four thousand year old city on a hot Andalusian summer afternoon, the tree-lined streets are quiet, whitewashed, serene.  I am searching for the quintessential Spanish eating experience. I want timelessness, I want old school Spain minus the kitsch, and above all, I want the Andalusian oxtail stew (the Spanish refer to it as Rabo de Toro or Cola de Toro). It was my first time in the city of Jerez de la Frontera , a city I have been to numerous times since and will return to many times over for its entrancing beauty and its delectable food.

I slipped onto a narrow street (this seems to be a running theme) and there it was, Restaurante Gaitan. Taking a good look inside, it was clear that this place had not changed in eons. It had the feel of a bygone era; a timeworn dining room crammed with old paintings, the rooms framed by arched doorways lined by the distinctive colour of Jerez, warm mustard yellow. The clientele looked like the loyal die-hard type. They were settling in for their pre-siesta afternoon meal and I was settling in for my first ever Cola de Toro a la Jerezana. For a second I wondered if I was about to partake in the wanton devouring of the loser of last night’s bull fight. Thankfully these days they use ox tail. It was a lovely meal of simple, succulent braised ox tail, the meat barely clinging to the bone, served on top of sliced potatoes. 

Once I returned home to Toronto, I decided to recreate it simply from memory. I didn’t bother to look for a recipe, I trusted my palate’s memory to guide me. I am certain that in Jerez they would have used a dry sherry ("sherry" is an anglicization of Jerez) to braise the meat but a good bottle of fino is not easily attained in New Zealand and it costs a fortune. If living in Toronto, Tio Pepe’s Palomino Fino is perfect and costs only 16 CAD. Instead I use a nice red wine, which is fine considering that outside of Jerez this dish is made with a good local red. As for good free range oxatils, I love Cumbrae's in Toronto ( and Farro ( or Nosh in Auckland.  Here goes this delicious and very forgiving one pot dish:

4 large meaty ox tails
Olive oil
2/3 large capsicums or 2 red bell peppers - sliced in thin strips about 3cm long
One whole onion - diced
1 carrot sliced (optional)
Bottle red wine
Beef stock (optional)
1.5 tsp pimenton dulce or sweet paprika
Fresh thyme - about 2 sprigs
Salt and pepper

Lightly dust ox tails with flour then brown them in olive oil. Set aside.

In same pot, sauté the onions, carrots, and capsicums for 3-4 minutes.

Add the tails back in and let the veggies and meat sweat together for a minute.

Pour in a bottle of good red wine so it just about covers the tails. Alternatively, you may use half a bottle of wine and an equal amount of beef stock depending on your preference. Play around with the ratio of wine to stock.

Sprinkle in the pimenton, thyme, salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the pot with a lid and pop into the oven at about 325 F or 165 C for about 2 hours. Check in now and then to turn the meat over and to adjust the seasoning.

Serve over round slices of potatoes either roasted or boiled.

Buen provecho!