Monday, October 25, 2010

Food Rules

“Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.”
From Food Rules: An Eater’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

            With all the talk about sustainability and ethical eating, what is a foodie to do?  Every trip to the grocer, farmer’s market, fishmonger, and butcher is filled with anxiety and dread.  Is it local?  Is it organic?  Does it come from sustainable farms?  Are they heirloom varietals?  Total carbon footprint? And that is just for produce.  The list of questions for any animal protein is long enough to make my daughter’s Christmas wish list look puny by comparison.
            While I do have some reservations about Michael Pollan’s rules for eating,  (For example, when 15% of the US population is considered “food insecure,” [1] is it appropriate to pass judgment on food?) I do think he is on to something.   When I hear children in New York City asking if meat grows in Styrofoam packaging (actual question from a kid at Citarella), I wonder if we have completely disconnected ourselves from what we eat, why we eat and from where we eat. 
            So for today’s post, I am going to invoke my own food rule – Eat from tip to tail.  In other words, don’t waste an animal.  Nineteenth-century Americans didn’t waste meat – why else would they make or eat something like headcheese? Native Americans did not squander any part of that bison.  Other food cultures see meat as a luxury and they don’t discard any part of the animal.  Just ask the Chinese.  Chicken feet, if properly treated, are delicious.  Italians make the best dishes out of tripe.  And there is Korean oxtail soup or Gom Gook – my secret weapon against almost everything – colds, homesickness, crankiness.  Simmered for hours, this soup can become the base for any recipe that calls for beef broth.  I use it as a base for miso soup (a trick that the restaurants don’t want you to know).   I also use some of it in any red meat based sauce that needs some “beefing” up.  And the best part, it’s relatively cheap.  Slurp well my friends.

Oxtail Soup
While this soup is delish, it definitely wins the award for “slow” food.  Basically, the longer is simmers, the better the broth.  I usually do a minimum of 8 hours, most of it unattended.  Also, some people don’t like the smell – it definitely screams cow.  If you can’t handle that in your kitchen, best turn on the fans and open the windows….

2 pound of oxtails, trimmed of excess fat
1 pound of beef soup bones

1.     Take the oxtails and soup bones and place in a large bowl.  Fill the bowl with cold water and change the water every 15 minutes.  Three rinses is sufficient, but if you want very clear broth, you can rinse more often.
2.     Place the oxtails and soup bones in the largest pot you have (stock/soup pot is perfect).  Fill the pot to the top with water.
3.     Place on the stove over medium heat and let it come to a strong boil.   A bunch of scum will rise to the top.  Skim the scum and discard.  Once it comes to a strong boil, turn down the heat to low-medium and let it come to a gentle simmer for about 3 hours.
4.     At this point, you can either let the soup cool overnight in a cold place (outside or your garage, with a lid on top) or continue cooking.  I like to let the broth sit so I can de-fat the soup, but that it not necessary.
5.     Let the broth simmer for about another 3 hours.  Longer is better, but if you don’t have the time or patience, don’t worry.
6.     With a slotted spoon, remove the meat and the bones (the meat should be falling off the bone) and place in a separate bowl.  When cool enough to handle, discard the bones and place meat back into the soup.
7.     Serve in large bowls with chopped scallion, salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 6-8 dinner sized servings.
Note:  The soup freezes quite easily.  You can just freeze it in some freezer bags until ready for use.  You just need to place them in a pot and let it come to a boil.  You could microwave it, but I really don’t recommend it – it just takes too long.

Faux Pho
You can definitely use this soup as a base for pho, the delicious Vietnamese beef noodle soup.  While pho broth is the nectar of the gods, one has to have the patience (and the butcher) of the gods to make it properly.  Using oxtail soup is an easy and cheap alternative to using pho broth.  Here’s my version.

1 recipe for oxtail soup (see above)
1 pound of 1/16th inch rice sticks
1 pound of bean sprouts, rinsed
1 bunch of scallions, chopped
1 bunch of Asian basil (Thai or other) or mint
1 bunch of chopped cilantro, chopped coarsely
3 limes, cut into wedges
2-3 Thai bird chilies or Serrano peppers, cut into thin rings
Fish Sauce
Sriracha Sauce
Hoisin Sauce

1.     Soak rice sticks in cold water (enough to cover) for 30 minutes.
2.     In the meanwhile, heat oxtail soup and boil water for rice sticks.  Prepare all the condiments to be served separately with finished bowls of soup.
3.      When all the other condiments are ready to be served, place rice sticks into boiling water for about 10-20 seconds.  Drain noodles thoroughly and distribute among 6 dinner sized bowls.
4.     Distribute soup into bowls, and have each guest customize their soup with the condiments listed above.
Note:  Do not use Western (e.g. Genovese) basil in place of Asian basil as it has too strong a taste.  Use mint instead.  Fish sauce, sriracha and hoisin sauce can be found in most Southeast Asian markets.

[1] Household Food Security in The United States, 2008.  United States Department of Agriculture.

1 comment:

  1. my favorite thing to do is to dip the oxtail bones into soy sauce and suck on them. i know, weird and a little sick. but gelatinous and delicious!