I think every food photographer out there should love food…if they don’t, then shame on them. It’s really this love of cooking, trying new cuisines and dishes that really started me to love shooting food. I still remember how in 7th grade my Home-Ec project was to cook a meal for the family and document it in photos. I made Chicken Parmigiana (yes really Chinese I know), set the whole table, the whole nine yards really….and when I began shooting it, I recall how much I adored capturing food on film. Sure, it was merely red sauce and mozzarella cheese over a pan seared chicken breast but I can picture it in my mind like it was yesterday. Love.
Home-cooking is a big thing for me. I love to cook and I love to taste dishes out in restaurants and try to make them at home (though I should mention that it’s not always successful). One of my favorite dishes stem from those westernized classics from Hong Kong style cafes – the Oxtail Stew/Stoup/Soup – call it what you like. If you’ve never been to one, I encourage you to ask around for a good one and try it out. I made my own version of it yesterday and wanted to share the recipe in case any of you are interested. You can serve it with crusty french bread + butter, over rice, over egg noodles, with farfalle (bowtie) noodles or whatever you think would best suit the dish and your palate. Just make sure that before you start, that you have plenty of time (say 4 hours) on your hand to make this – once it’s on the stove, it’s easy but you have to check on it from time to time and add ingredients.
- flour (enough to dust oxtails completely with)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 lbs of oxtail
- 1 red onion (chopped)
- 1 brown onion (chopped)
- 6 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 cup red wine
- 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes in juice
- 3 bay leaves
- chicken bouillon powder
- 4 large carrots (roughly sliced)
- 5 ribs of celery (roughly chopped)
- Maggi seasoning sauce
- jalapenos (optional)
- 1/4 cup pearl barley (uncooked)
- 1 cup water
In a small pot, bring 1 cup water to a boil along with a pinch of salt. Once water boils, pour in pearl barley (be sure to wash and rinse barley first) and bring to low simmer for about 45 minutes or until barley is chewy but tender. Set aside to cool.
While the barley is simmering on the stove, begin the oxtail soup:
- Mix the flour with a generous amount of pepper and salt – then dust all the oxtails in mixture and shake off excess.
- Heat up olive oil in large dutch oven or pot.
- Using long tongs, sear the oxtails on all sides until brown. Oil WILL splatter so be careful during this process. Sear all the oxtail in batches as to not crowd the pot. Set aside all browned oxtail.
- While pot is still hot, add in chopped red and brown onions along with minced garlic and turn heat down to medium. Allow onions and garlic to sweat for about 7 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Add in red wine, crushed tomatoes and the browned oxtails. Try to place larger pieces of oxtail on the bottom layer (if you can’t fit all the oxtails in a single layer that is).
- Add enough water to cover the oxtails by 1 inch and turn stove to high.
- Add 3 generous tsp of chicken bouillon. If you don’t have any, add a can of chicken broth. Add in bay leaves.
- Once contents of the pot come to a boil, turn down to a low simmer and cover with lid.
- Allow to boil about 2 hours. Stir occasionally.
- Next add the roughly sliced carrots and chopped celery (larger pieces preferred so they won’t break down and disintegrate too much).
- Add in about 2/3 of the boiled barley into the soup mixture as well. Barley will help thicken the soup naturally and is a matter of preference on how thick you want it. If you want it thicker, you can add more.
- Simmer for another hour and stir from time to time.
- Then remove lid and without stirring up the pot – use a shallow ladle to skim off the layer of oil/fat that has surfaced at the top of the soup. Try to remove as much as possible.
- If your oxtail has a good amount of fat on there, remove them from the soup at this time and trim off excess fat. It should come off quite easily. Please note that oxtail has a very gelatinous nature to it and sometimes the gelatin may be mistaken for the fat. Once fat is trimmed, place oxtails back into soup.
- If you want a spicy kick to your oxtail soup, you can add in sliced jalapenos (without the seeds/rib) or add in some red pepper flakes.
- Allow soup to simmer for 1 last hour and stir occasionally. (Should be 4 hours in total)
- Season with salt, pepper and a few dashes of Maggi and cook for about 5 more minutes before serving.
- Depending on the thickness of your soup/stew/stoup – you can serve it a multitude of ways.
Though I made this soup with oxtail, you could probably do the same with beef shank, beef stew or other cuts that require a long cooking process. Oxtail is just so incredibly tender at the end of the cooking process and the meat isn’t rough like other cuts. The bits of gelatinous goodness really lends itself to create a delicious texture to the stew. Even if you don’t eat the oxtails itself, the flavor of the soup is really delicious. For those who dig that Hong Kong style-borscht (that I also make), this is quite similar but much more hearty. I know the recipe looks long and overwhelming but it’s really quite simple – just needs some TLC from you.
With leftovers, if it’s too thick, just add some water, season and reheat. The oxtail is even better after sitting a day or two!
Try it let me know what you think! Hope to share more home-cooking recipes with you in the future. Enjoy!