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Oxtail: Adored By Emperors and Ordinary Folk

by Jacqueline M. Newman


Fall Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(3) page(s): 31, 32, and 35

This end of the older cow, appreciated by the earliest of emperors and ordinary folk, was referred to by Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (259 - 210 BCE) as a food he wanted to eat. He expanded his country's military, oversaw an army of more than one million soldiers, and enjoyed and ate many tails of oxen. Before his reign, there were many warlords, but he was the first to unify his country, standardized its written language, and unify monies in use. He also increased appreciation for the tails of oxen.

Many rulers who followed him took a tour of China. He did too, and while doing so stopped at a local eatery asking for beef. With none left in the larder, the owner offered him a dish set aside for himself, one made with the tail of an ox. Most appreciated, he rewarded him when he learned what he had done, namely giving up the dish saved for self.

In early times, large kitchen staffs did have one or more oxtails set aside and maintained in tip-top condition. They were kept handy because they also were requested for sacrificial purposes; thus they were needed often. In the Chou Li, it says "oxen are the most important meat in the Imperial larder." This meat is mentioned in thirteen poems in the Shi Ching, eight of them in association with sheep, all were touted for ritual purposes.

If unavailable in your local market, beef shank can be substituted, but be aware the shank is not as rich nor as sweet. The first Chinese recipe for this part of the cow or an older beast known as the ox, is important in the Chinese culinary. Must be as the staff tending them is larger than for any other animal. This is recorded in the Chou Li and seen in excavations at Tomb Number One at Mawandi in Changsha near Hunan, and found set aside in the tomb of the empress, and listed among the foods found there.

We share that recipe below and others from later times. They need to be long-cooked, braised, or prepared in other ways. We also share an oxtail recipe meant to be served with just a little meat from an ox tail. Seems the emperor was known to like this sweet meat in large or small amounts.

During his reign, oxtail was touted as a food to prolong life, and many Chinese did want to do that. He was not alone, people in many regions of China liked oxtails, particularly in soup, spicy or plain, in stews, even as an accompaniment or prepared with other foods including chicken or other poultry. They liked it plain, with or without its bone, also stuffed. Even though it needed lots of time in a pot, they did like it and made it often.
Braised Oxtail
1 two to three pound ox tail, cut into two-inch sections
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
3 Tablespoons Shao Xing or another rice wine
1/2 Tablespoon coarse salt
4 cups vegetable oil
2 fresh hot chili peppers, seeded and minced
2 scallions, coarsely minced
3 slices fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups beef or chicken broth
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 pieces star anise
2 carrots, peeled cut on an angle
2 pieces canned winter bamboo shoots, cut to match the carrots
1. Mix meat, soy sauce, wine, and salt, and set aside for half an hour, then drain and separate the meat and the oil, and dry the meat with paper towels.
2. Heat the oil and deep fry the meat for ten minutes or until the meat is very crisp.
3. Put two tablespoons of the oil in large pot and stir-fry the chili peppers, scallions, and ginger for one minute, then return the meat and add the broth, sugar, and star anise to the pot. Reduce the heat and simmer for two hours, then add the carrots and the bamboo shoots and continue simmering another forty-five minutes. Then serve.
Eggs and Oxtails For Immortals
8 eggs, hard-cooked and left in their shells
1/2 cup minced beef, preferably from the tail
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1 Tablespoon cold water
1 cup vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons chicken stock
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1. Carefully remove a small piece of shell on the thicker end, then remove the hard-cooked egg yolks from the other end.
2. Mash the yolks and mix them with the minced beef, soy sauce, rice wine, salt, and minced ginger, and carefully stuff this mixture back into the egg shells, not breaking them.
3. Seal the opening with the cornstarch paste and set aside for fifteen minutes or until dry.
4. Heat the oil and fry half the cooked eggs for one to two minutes, then put both batches in a steamer over boiling water and steam them for five to eight minutes. Then remove and peel them. Serve whole or cut in half when hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Stewed Oxtails
2 oxtails, each cut into two-inch pieces
6 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin or any other sweet bean paste
1 teaspoon coarse salt
6 slices fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 Tablespoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 dried chili pepper cut in half and seeded
2 star anise
1 onion, cut into one-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into two-inch chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into two-inch chunks
2 cups red wine
1 cup beef stock
2 to 3 inches Chinese rock sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
10 wonton skins, slivered
1. Put all the ingredients except the oil and wonton skins in a medium-size pot, and bring the liquid to just below the boil. Reduce the heat and do not cover the pot. Simmer this stirring often for two hours.
2. If the liquid left is greater than a few tablespoons, increase the heat and reduce it until that is all the liquid remaining. Then, remove the star anise and the half pieces of chili pepper and discard them.
3. Heat oil in another pot, deep fry the wonton skins until crisp, drain on paper towels, and when cool, crumble them.
4. Serve the oxtails on a platter, sprinkle them with the crumbled wonton skins, and serve.
Pig's Brain, Oxtail, and Eggs
2 sets of brains from pigs
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ginger juice
1 Tablespoon scallion juice
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon cornstarch or sweet potato flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 oxtail cut into two-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 scallions, each tied in a knot
1. Soak the brains for half an hour in cold water, drain, then remove their membranes and any red tissue attached to them.
2. Mix the brains with the cornstarch, ginger and scallion juices, cornstarch, and the salt and pepper.
3. Slice, then add the brains, and put this on a heat-proof deep plate. Beat the eggs, mix with the pieces of oxtail, add the soy sauce and the scallion knots, and steam for ten minutes, before putting the slices of brains on a heat proof platter. Then steam the oxtails for another ten minutes, add them to the platter, dice the egg mixture and spread it around the meat and the brains. Then serve.
Oxtail Soup
6 cups Chicken stock or broth
1 oxtail, cut into two-inch sections
1 pound chicken legs
1/2 pound whole chicken thighs
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced, then each piece crushed
1 Tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
3 Tablespoons goji berries
3 Tablespoons Chinese Shao Xing or another Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon broad bean paste
1. Bring chicken stock or broth to the boil, add oxtail and chicken pieces, and the ginger and peppercorns, and simmer for half an hour, skimming often. Remove the poultry and let the oxtail cook another half an hour, then remove it. Allow all to cool about half an hour until they can be handled.
2. While waiting, strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth, and remove the poultry from the bones and discard the bones and the skin. Then remove the oxtail pieces, and tear or cut the meat off its bone. Cut the chicken meat into one-inch pieces. Discard the ginger and the peppercorns. 3. Return the chicken and oxtail meat to the pot, and add enough water to have six to eight cups of liquid. Add the goji berries, the wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, and the broad bean paste and stir well, then simmer for ten to fifteen minutes. Serve as is or serve the meat in a bowl on the side and the soup in soup bowls.
Oxtail Stew
1 oxtail, cut into one-inch pieces
1 pound daikon, peeled and cut into two-inch chunks
8 cups chicken stock
8 star anise
6 fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
6 slices fresh peeled ginger, smashed
1/2 cup Shao Xing or another mild Chinese rice wine
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1-inch cube white rock sugar
1 cup coriander leaves, chopped coarsely
1. Bring oxtail, daikon, and the chicken stock to the boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, add the star anise, garlic, ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, and rock sugar and simmer this mixture for two hours, scum as needed.
2. Remove the oxtails and take the meat off the bones, if desired, and return it to the pot and boil the mixture for ten minutes until it gets thick.
3. Add coriander leaves, stir for two minutes, then ladle into individual bowls, and serve.

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