27 August 2009

The Fifth Quarter

The has been an awful lot of interest in offal. The Italians call it, il Quinto Quarto, the Fifth Quarter which is the title of Anissa Helou's cookbook of offal recipes. Helou took a global approach to her investigation of innards. She begins with various recipes she calls, "The Acceptable Face of Offal," featuring foie gras, wings, roe, and terrine. She eases us into chicken livers and oxtail. Then it jumps into the deep end of the offal pond. There are brains: in coconut cream, poached with the eyes, and red-cooked a Chinese preparation for pigs brains. There are snouts and feet and kidneys and blood.

My favorite offal are chicken gizzards. I have loved them since I was a child. there was an old fox hunting camp near me in Alabama. dinner consisted of a stew of rice and chicken offal, rich livers, chewy hearts and melting gizzards. It is still one of my favorite meals.

Another favorite in the offal clan is oxtail. Every winter when I went to Key West with Harry Lowe, we would stop at tiny Cuban restaurant to have a lovely oxtail stew. Add oxtail to a gelatin and what could be better.

Oxtail in Aspic

3 medium onions, cut in half
2 carrots, cut in chunks
2 leeks, trimmed and cut in chunks
2 turnips, cut in half
1 celery heart, cut in chunks
Few sprigs flat leaf parsley
2 - 3 sprigs rosemary
2 - 3 bay leaves
Few peppercorns
Sea salt
1 ox tail
6 sheets gelatin, about 18g
1 small bunch tarragon, leaves only

Put the vegetables, herbs and seasonings in a large pot. Add 3 liters of water and place a medium heat. simmer for 1 hour.

Add the oxtail and simmer for another 2 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone. Remove the oxtail and let it cool a little before taking the meat off the bone, discarding the skin and any gelatinous bits. the meat will automatically break into smallish pieces. Cover and set aside.

Remove the vegetables from the broth and discard. Strain the broth through cheesecloth and refrigerate until the fat forms a solid layer on the surface. Skim the fat and measure 800 ml of stock.

Break up the gelatin sheets and soak in 3 - 4 tablespoons of water for 5 minutes.

Heat the measured stock and add to the gelatin. Whisk the stock until the gelatin is completely diluted. Stir in the meat and tarragon (reserve a few leaves for garnish) and pour the mixture into a medium bowl - you will eventually need to turn out the jellied oxtail, so choose a nice, easy shape. Refrigerate the oxtail until the liquid is set. This will take around 3 hours. Then dip the bowl in boiling water for 30 seconds or so to loosen the aspic. Turn out the set oxtail onto a plate. Decorate with a few tarragon leaves. Serve with a mixed leaf salad.

While it takes some time to prepare, this is a wonderful dish for a luncheon.

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