Sunday, October 30, 2005

Oxtail and beach plum

Yesterday morning I decided to go shopping at the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market. I went first thing in the morning, so I was able to start the day with breakfast there. I had bacon gravy over home fries (they were out of sausage gravy, alas). The gravy was thick, creamy and a little smoky-tasting. The home fries were little wedges of fried potato seasoned with pepper and probably a few other things; I was too busy scarfing it all down to be very analytical. Definitely the kind of solid food you feed to the farm hands to fortify them for a long day's work.

Once I had fortified myself, I settled down to shopping. I couldn't resist getting another bag of peanut brittle; the one I bought last week disappeared so fast! I need not to make a habit of this, though. I bought a pile of other things and hauled them all home. There's something about a big shopping trip that makes me feel very satisfied. When I get the food home and stashed away in the cupboards and pantry, I feel like I killed a mastodon all by myself. Yes, I can provide for myself. I know this rosy picture falls apart on closer analysis (it's all about the payment of money, not real providing skills), but it's a pleasant feeling if not examined closely.

One of the things I got yesterday was a pound of sliced oxtail. The minute I saw it at the meat counter, I knew I was going to dig out a recipe for oxtail stew. The one I used was Bruce Cost's "Slow-Simmered Oxtail, White Radish, and Star Anise" from Asian Ingredients. Since I didn't have any daikon, I substituted sliced carrots. After parboiling the oxtail for two minutes, you boil eight cups of water and add the oxtail, three star anise, a quarter cup of Shao Xing wine, four smashed garlic cloves and six slices of ginger. This mix is cooked over medium heat, partially covered, for an hour. Then you add one tablespoon of mushroom soy and two tablespoons of light soy, two pieces (one inch square apiece) of rock sugar and one and a half teaspoons of salt. Cooking continues for two and a half hours. At that point, add the carrot or radish and cook for 30 more minutes. Of course, I neglected the step of cooking the stew down until the sauce was greatly reduced, so what I got was more soupy. I suppose I can cook it down tonight when I heat the leftovers for dinner.

The stew was lighter in flavor than I expected, probably because I didn't cook it down. The oxtail was falling-off-the-bone tender, very delicious. The carrots were almost but not quite as tender. I threw in some remnant egg noodles from almost-finished packages, just to confuse the issue; not enough to be a main ingredient, but enough to keep cropping up. Then I sat down to dinner while watching Colameco's Food Show and finding out how easy good roast beef can be (I liked his paean to iceberg lettuce and Russian dressing, too, though Perfect Tommy would probably be scandalized).

Today, The Lurker and I went out to Sandy Hook. We saw some birds, but the sunny breezy day was just a perfect fall day to be savored, no matter your recreation of choice. Migrating hawks flew overhead regularly while sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers and hordes of Dark-eyed Juncos foraged in the scrub and undergrowth. One find we made was what proved to be a beach plum bush with indigo fruits hinting at a violet tinge and what can only be described as a pruinose sheen. (I'm surprised to be able to link a botanical definition, since The Lurker and I were thinking of pruinose dragonflies when we made the comparison. Learn something new every day.) I picked one and brought it home to confirm the identification. Once it was identified, I ate it; its tart flavor and big pit may not be the sort of thing that commercial food producers go for, but it has a mystique all its own for those who love the beaches and barrier islands of the Atlantic coast. Besides, that particular beach plum may not have been ripe.

All in all, a fine weekend. I just wish it could last longer.

1 comment:

Winslow said...

When I cooked the oxtail stew down as leftovers, it turned into a thick, sweet and wonderful autumn meal.