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Collagen thickened oxtail stew (or how to wash your soup) and braised beef tendon

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Picture of Collagen thickened oxtail stew (or how to wash your soup) and braised beef tendon
A soup made with a high collagen content is rich and silky, and thick enough that you won't need to add any starches. The reason I decided to do the beef tendon and oxtail together is so that I can make an initial pot of stock while softening the beef tendon, then use it in the stew. Oxtail by itself has a nice amount of collagen, but starting out with stock from the beef tendon makes this stew a solid at room temperature.

The funniest thing is that I keep seeing these "collagen supplements" in the store, and wonder: "Why bother?" Why bother indeed when that stuff comes with meat? In fact, the BEST sources of collagen is in the "gristle", you know, the stuff that PEOPLE THROW OUT when they cook? And then they buy it in little pills for ridiculous sums? WTF?  Anyways, I don't know if eating collagen will really do all those wonderful things the hype claims, but I can promise that there's nothing like eating a rich, silky-smooth stew while watching the snow fall (and thinking very hard about not having to shovel later)

My instructable will kinda flip between the two recipes to show how everything is timed; but I will put the full list of ingredients and how everything is done at the beginning.  Please don't use this recipe as a bible though, I tend to be whimsical while cooking, and will adjust the taste -often- during the cooking process.  Typically, I would grab enough veggies to seem about right, and have some left over for my next endeavor.

Step 1: Step 0: Choosing the meat

I usually buy the frozen beef tendon b/c it's easier to cut.  Or at least chop.

The oxtail though, is a little more annoying.  I prefer my stew to NOT have a layer of fat on it, so I look for some nice relatively lean cuts.  I vastly prefer to go to the Green Market in Union Square to buy grass fed.  Taste-wise in a rich stew like this, it doesn't matter -as much-.  However, it tends to be a LOT leaner (gee, who'd'a thunk that animals that doesn't live in a tiny cubical would be leaner than one which doesn't move all day...)  I usually grab my tendon from the same source.

Alas, this time I couldn't get my sorry ass in gear, so I just went to the local grocer instead.

Step 2: Recipe for Braised Beef tendon!

Picture of Recipe for Braised Beef tendon!
Mmmmm, I use a lot of soy and spices this time b/c I plan to use the juice as a 'condensed' soup for quickie meals.  The picture of just the finished braised tendons didn't look that great by itself, so I made the great sacrifice of making a delicious bowl of noodles.

Braised stuff keeps REALLY well, and in fact, tastes better if left to rest overnight or longer.  I would usually make this the day before I plan to serve it.

Braised Beef Tendon
2lbs of beef tendon (or you can mix it up with actual beef, try shoulder cuts for something nicely 'gristle' filled)
1/2 cup cooking wine
1/2 cup soy sauce (go for the low-sodium, that's actually brewed and more flavorful)
1/2 cup sugar (I like to use turbino, but you can go brown or white)
1 garlic root (Not traditional, I like garlic)
2 batches of scallions (not required, I just love scallions)

2 star anis
1 tablespoon of cumin (I ended up using powdered due to my real cumin going MIA)
2 licorice sticks (I like licorice,you can use less)
1 ginger root
1 stick of cinnamon (I skipped this b/c of allergies)
-or-
Chinese 5 spice powder from the store, use the amount recommended on the back (you cheater!!)

1. Cut the beef tendon to fit the pot if needed, then toss in enough liquid to fill the pot, cook on a medium heat for about 30 minutes.
- The reason you're filling the pot is that when beef tendon cook, it will shrink. However, when it shrinks, it won't shrink evently, and will deform in all sorts of weird ways, we want enough water to cover it through all the various deformations.
2. When the beef tendon cooked, but not soft (basically, it's not going to deform anymore, but still needs to be softened), pull out liquids until you have just enough to cover the tendons & toss in the wine, soy, and spices.
3. Braise on low heat, check hourly to see if it's at the level of softness you like. I like using super-low heat for a long time b/c I like it a little on the hard side, and that's the only way to get the flavor in.

Step 3: Recipe for Oxtail!

Picture of Recipe for Oxtail!
I tend to do this one in two steps, refrigerating it overnight after the first step to clean optimize the removal of fat.  You can do it in one day if you want.  Saturated fat, while tasty and wonderful smelling, upsets my tummy.  Oh, and it's bad for me.

Oxtail stew
3lbs oxtail (less if you manage to find ones with less fat... I got unlucky this go around!)
-just- enough water to cover the oxtail, (yes, it IS very little water, most of the liquids from this stew comes from the veggies!)
1 whole garlic (did I mention I like garlic?)
1 tablespoon of salt or 2 of soy sauce
1 tsp pepper and/or cayenne pepper (I usually end up using a lot, but most people don't like this spicy, so just use enough to activate one's taste-buds!)
about 4-5 lbs of onion
2 stalks of celery
3lbs tomato
1lbs of some form of tubers. I ended up using parsnips for this round b/c I never had it, it was on sale, and parsnips sound funny. Seriously.. say it: "parsnip!!"
1 can of tomato PASTE (optional, I used it this time b/c the stew was going to be for a dinner with relatives who like their tomato-based stews RED.  *shrug* go figure.  It's not required, but DOES lend a nice extra amount of tomato-y acid to the stew)

1. Cut off the fat from the oxtails (if you go to a butcher shop, you can usually ask them to do this!)
  - note: be careful!! Some of that white is TENDON and not fat!  When cutting closer than an inch, I use a steak knife, i know to stop cutting when I hit the white stuff the knife can't saw through.)
2. Stuff your oxtail into the bottom of your stewpot.  Lay it as flat and densely as possible.  Mix the wine with the salt, toss it in.  Add JUST barely enough water to cover the oxtail, cover the pot.
3. At a LOW temp, I use turn my stove on so that it just barely doesn't go out.  Now walk away.  Let it simmer for like 2 hours.  Occasionally check to make sure the water still covers the oxtail.
4. - remove fat (my method!)
    a. Refrigerate pot overnight.
    b. Next day, wash the fat off the stew (see full length)
5. Taste for salt.  All further sources of water will come from the veggies, so this is the only place you will add additional salt!  Toss in optional herbs/spices/etc.
6. Cut your veggies, mix them, then lay as densely as possible over the cooked meat.  I actually cut as I toss them in so that I don't end up with too much.  Give preference for putting in the tomatoes and onions (they are the juiciest)
7. Cover, then cook at a SUPER LOW temp.  If you go higher you WILL burn something!!  Walk away.  What you are doing now is letting the steam from the bottom cook the veggies, and releasing the water from the veggies to make the liquid for the rest of your stew.
8. 2+ hours later:  If you have remaining veggies, cut & mix them in, otherwise, just mix the veggies so that the ones at the top, which are likely only minimally cooked, gets covered.  Walk away.  Toss in the can of tomato past if you're using it.
9. 1 hour later: stir the stew GENTLY to mix the veggies and meat.  Test the meat & veggies, if they are not tender enough, you can now turn the heat to medium, and cook until the meat is falling off the bones and the veggies are tender (It's usually good enough by this point!).
10.  Do NOT go to bed to take the 'in a bowl' picture later, a plague of locusts will descend upon the unguarded food and devour it... ^_^''

Step 4: Beef tendon step 1: Cook the beef tendon

1. Cut the beef tendon to fit the pot if needed, then toss in enough liquid to fill the pot, cook on a medium heat for about 30 minutes.
- The reason you're filling the pot is that when beef tendon cook, it will shrink. However, when it shrinks, it won't shrink evenly, and will deform in all sorts of weird ways, we want enough water to cover it through all the various deformations.

While this broth is rendering, continue onto the net step.

Step 5: Beef tendon step 2: prepare spices&herbs!

Picture of Beef tendon step 2: prepare spices&herbs!
cut_herbs_2.JPG
CUT_HERD_CHEAT.JPG
If you are using the 5 spices powder or pre-made satchels... skip this step ya wuss.

Otherwise, (cue horror movie music) chop up the 5 herbs VERY roughly:
1. The licorice is simply snapped into a couple pieces.
2. The ginger is smashed then cut up about an inch against the grain.
3. If I had actual cumin, I would've mortar and pestled it, but I couldn't find my cumin, so I stole some of my housemate's pre-ground stuff.
4. Star Anise is left whole
5. The cinnamon would've been left whole as well.

The non-traditional garlic is smashed as per the standard garlic smashing-peel method.

Step 6: Misc not-a-step: E-Z peel garlic.

I <3 garlic.  If a vampire bit me (a real one, not one of those emo sparklies), it would instantly re-die from the amount of garlic I eat.  Don't worry though, when you COOK the garlic, you won't end up with the stinky breath.

1. Break the garlic into cloves.
2. Pick up your cleaver.
3. SMASH!! SMASH SMASH!!!
4. laugh maniacally.  optional step.
I love cooking... when else can I beat the crap out of things w/o going to prison?  Name each one for someone that pissed you off.  This one is named: "That asshole who cut me off when I was driving home"
5. The cloves should just fall apart at this point, pick out the shell and throw it out.

Step 7: Oxtail stew step 1: cut off the fat.

1. Cut off the fat from the oxtails (if you go to a butcher shop, you can usually ask them to do this!)
- note: be careful!! Some of that white is TENDON and not fat! When cutting closer than an inch, I use a steak knife, i know to stop cutting when I hit the white stuff the knife can't saw through.)

Once again, apologies for the lousy picture... the tendons REALLY DO look different from fat in real life!!  ^_^''

Note: keep an eye on the tendon, since it's on medium heat, it needs the occasional stir.

Step 8: Braised tendon step 3/Oxtail step 2: Drain the beef tendon/start simmering the oxtail!

Beef tendon
2. When the beef tendon cooked, but not soft (basically, it's not going to deform anymore, but still needs to be softened), pull out liquids until you have just enough to cover the tendons & toss in the soy and spices.
3. Braise on low heat, check hourly to see if it's at the level of softness you like. I like using super-low heat for a long time b/c I like it a little on the hard side, and that's the only way to get the flavor in.

Oxtail Stew
2. Stuff your oxtail into the bottom of your stewpot. Lay it as flat and densely as possible. Mix the wine with the salt, toss it in. Add JUST barely enough stock from the beef tendon to cover the oxtail, toss in garlic, cover the pot.
3. Simmer it on LOW TEMPERATURE, I mean low... I had my gas at JUST BARELY not going out low!

Both
Walk away for 2 hours.  I mean it.  Occasionally wander back to make sure nothing is boiled over and the housemates didn't decide to 'help' by turning the fire up and burning the stew.

Note: To make the stew and braised tendon look nicer, you can pull out ALL the liquids and filter it to make the broth completely clear.  I am too lazy.

Step 9: Tendon: DONE! Oxtail step 3: Let rest overnight

Picture of Tendon: DONE! Oxtail step 3: Let rest overnight
Like I said in the intro; the braised beef tendon tastes better when left to rest overnight.  So I just turned off the burner and let it sit on the stove.  (During the summer I'll put it in the fridge once it's cool enough)  I made the noodle soup the next day for my "done" shot.  Nom, nom nom... tasty.  The noodles were fresh udon (from the refrigerated aisle in the grocery store) and some fresh veggies!  I was out of eggs otherwise I would've dropped one in.

Yes, my bowl IS indeed the serving-sized pot I cooked in... I HATE doing the dishes!

You can either put the oxtail in the fridge overnight to let it congeal (I know, i know.... that sounds unappetizing...)  and then wash the fat out; OR you can scoop out the fat and skip the next step.

Step 10: Oxtail step 4/5: wash your stew & taste for salt.

4. (lol) betcha nobody ever told you to wash stew before huh?  Seriously... if you did everything right, you'll have oxtail jello @ the bottom, and a layer of unsaturated fat floating on top, and a hard layer of saturated fat on top of THAT (if you didn't get enough out).

What you want to do now, is carefully test how solid your oxtail jello is by tipping the pot over, and pouring out some of the fat.

Mine is came out really solid, so I can give it the full treatment, do the following, then put the heat back on, once again, AS LOW AS POSSIBLE, you want to let the oxtail jello to melt while you chop the veggies!

a. Pour out as much as possible, skip this step if your oxtail jello moves when you tilt the pot over!
b. Use a spoon to carefully scrape up some at the top.
* If your oxtail jello is soft, as in it you had to skip step 1, stop here.

c. Carefully pour in some warm water.  not much tho! you are melting the fat which is stuck to the top of the oxtail jelly and floating it off the stew.
d. Pour in COLD water to float the fat the rest of the way out.  Pour it off.
e. I like to spray in some more cold water to get the last bits out.

There you have it, you washed your stew.  :-D

5. Taste it for salt.  all sources of liquid from here on comes from the veggies, and thus will be very flavorful!

Step 11: Oxtail step 6/7: add the veggies and 'steam cook' it!

Picture of Oxtail step 6/7: add the veggies and 'steam cook' it!
Just a random aside... I don't actually buy these veggies ahead of time; I usually buy them the day I want to cut them to save fridge space!  I also check to see what else I have in the fridge.  As you can see, I have a random lonely orange radish (weird huh?)  which managed to escape my predations the last time I cooked, and 1/4 box of cherry tomatoes left over from my lunch.

I swear, all these veggies eventually went into the pot.

6. chopped the veggies something like an inch or so long.  Lay the veggies as densely as possible over the cooked meat. Give preference for putting in the tomatoes and onions (they are the juiciest)

* I actually cut as I toss them in so that I don't end up with too much. Give preference for putting in the tomatoes and onions (they are the juiciest)

7. Cover, then cook at a SUPER LOW temp. If you go higher you WILL burn something!! Walk away. What you are doing now is letting the steam from the bottom cook the veggies, and releasing the water from the veggies to make the liquid for the rest of your stew.

Step 12: Ox tail Stew step 8: Mix the veggies.

Picture of Ox tail Stew step 8: Mix the veggies.
8. 1+ hours later: If you have remaining veggies, cut & mix them in, otherwise, just mix the veggies so that the ones at the top, which are likely only minimally cooked, gets covered. Walk away. Toss in the can of tomato paste if you're using it. Don't dig deep enough for the meat, you don't want to disturb that layer YET.

Step 13: Oxtail stew step 9: DONE!!

9. 1+ hour later: stir the stew GENTLY to mix the veggies and meat. Test the meat & veggies, if they are not tender enough, you can now turn the heat to medium, and cook until the meat is falling off the bones and the veggies are tender (It's usually good enough by this point!).

Note: Do NOT go to bed to take the 'in a bowl' picture later, a plague of locusts will descend upon the unguarded food and devour it... ^_^''
 
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firefly683 years ago
This sounds so good! I have never seen beef tendon for sale anywhere, but I see oxtails now and then. I have some stew meat in the freezer, so I guess I will make it with that; the seasonings are too good to not try. Normally I brown it first but I should not do that, right? Thanks orelalaith!
orelalaith (author)  firefly683 years ago
I am so glad you liked it!
The flavor of this stew comes from being REALLY stupidly dense. Using stew meats should be fine for that. However, without the collagen from the oxtail (or beef tendon), the liquid would probably be a little on the thin side. I suggest that you use the standard potato so that there's some starch to thicken the stew instead of "some random tuber". Be REALLY careful while stirring it with the potatoes though, I found that they tend to disintegrate when the stew is really thick and you stir too much. (You also wouldn't be able to rinse it out to remove the fats.)

I find that when you super-slow cook meats the final texture and flavor is about the same whether or not you brown them ahead of time, but it DOES tend to look a little nicer. I am very lazy, so I skipped that step. :)

Hmmm, do you have an actual butcher around where you are? They usually have it, but they don't put it in the front display (apparently, people buy it to make doggie treats). I've also seen both for sale at whole foods (well hidden, usually frozen and behind the stew bones). If you have a chinatown or some place where there plenty of thailand or malaysians, you should be able to find it in the grocer's too- oxtail broth is what gives pho and other noodle soups their texture.