Monday, 19 October 2009

Soupin' Up for the Fall

Oh, there were several possible factors that motivated me to make some suit for the first time in a while, and a slow-cooked one for the first time ever. Perhaps it was my sudden realization that I hadn't done any experimental cooking since this spring. Perhaps it was the bout of snow my city got last week. Perhaps it was my sister showcasing a slow-cooked soup she made herself recently. Perhaps it was my sister reminding (taunting?) me this weekend how I've been missing out on some finer foods and especially more exotic and/or unique ingredients that at times can only be found in large cities. In any case, the urge to experiment had sprouted and had to be nurtured to fruition.

My inspiration at one of my local supermarkets this weekend was oxtail. Though there is a definitely Chinese version of oxtail soup, my first thought upon seeing oxtail pieces was my childhood experiences of Hong Kong-style Western cuisine, of which my memory of oxtail soup was most vivid. HKW cuisine is essentially fusion cuisine with a slant that's more suited to Chinese tastes. and often than not feature ingredients that are either frequently in Chinese cuisine or are readily recognized as foreign derivatives of Chinese ingredients. With an inspiration and a memory in hand, I proceeded to create my own rendition of oxtail soup. I'll admit now that my method of making this soup was restricted by what I could easily get in town; a traditional southern Chinese version of oxtail soup with certain Chinese herbs was very impractical for me to make, and I've yet to start stocking up on those items from my Winnipeg daytrips.

Behold, a (large) sample of the final product! Though in hindsight cabbage could've been used here, I didn't buy any nor had any leftover to put in the soup. However, I did have plenty of celery from making some chicken thigh stew the previous weekend; carrots I had to buy during my weekly grocery run. To further add a Western twist to this dish I also added some pot barley and bay leaf into my soup. The oxtail meat easily fell off the bone after being cooked for about 4 hours, though perhaps I should caution that this cut of beef, with some gelatinous texture and, of course, a few large bones, may not be for everybody. If you're not a fan of oxtail, you could substitute with other bony cuts, and it doesn't have to be beef at all; with the soup my sister described in her blog, she used pork shoulder instead.

With this experimentation, I must confess I've failed on two points. First, in hindsight I could've added some more vegetables, such as cabbage and tomato. The second and arguable the bigger mistake of the two was that I didn't bother trimming the fat that was present on the larger oxtail pieces; I'll have to remember that next time. I didn't blanch the meat beforehand like my sister did with her pork shoulder in her soup, but I was able to skim off the surface the foam that naturally comes from boiling chunks of meat. Next time I could try adding other ingredients that could bring different flavours to the soup as well; for some reason Ancho chilis come to mind right now.

Below is essentially what I did. Feel free to experiment with other vegetables, herbs and/or flavourings to suit your particular tastes.

Andrew's Fusion Oxtail Soup

~1.5kg (~3.0lbs.) oxtail bones (preferably the larger, meatier pieces)
~1.5kg (~3.0lbs.) mix of vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces (e.g. carrots, celery) or shredded (e.g. cabbage)
1-2 bay leaves
75mL (1/3 cup) pot barley
3 litres of water (preferably filtered)
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large stock pot add oxtail bones to the water and bring to a boil for about 5-10 minutes. In the meantime, cut up the vegetables. (If using celery, save the yellow portions in the heart, especially the leaves; they themselves can help flavour the soup.) After the water has taken its time to boil, skim off the foam on the surface of the boiling water with a small sieve.

Add vegetables, bay leaves and barley to water and bring it back to a boil. Cover and let simmer for about four (4) hours on medium-low heat. If you've added something starchy to the soup mixture such as barley or potatoes, stir occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot, which will result in burning which can easily ruin the flavour of the soup.

Just before the soup's ready to be immediately served, add salt and pepper to taste. The soup can be served with the meat and vegetables on the side or, if served as a meal, in a large bowl with the broth itself.

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