This is, hands down, the most delicious thing I’ve made in a long time.
And the most expensive. And the most time consuming. And the most primally…viscerally…carnivorously satisfying.
No joke, I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking about this stuff. Admittedly, I have problems. (Or at least very particular tastes.)
What is oxtail marmalade?
Think about the best beef stew you’ve ever had. For me, that’s beef bourguignon. Intensify the flavor like, a kabillion times. Balance the flavors perfectly with sugar and acid. Make it so thick and sticky that you can stand a spoon up in a bowl of it.
Then you’ll start to approach the goodness that is oxtail marmalade.
I first saw the recipe for Blue Ribbon Brasserie’s oxtail marmalade a few weeks ago on Serious Eats. I knew I had to try it. It’s one of those things that I’d seen diners rave about on the interwebs from time to time. Now I know why. I haven’t been to the restaurant in New York, but I may need to make the trip.
Consider. Hours of cooking? An ingredient list that includes a huge bottle of wine and two bottles of port? The prospect of transforming one of the toughest and nastiest parts of a beast into something so succulent that you can spread it on toast?
Totally my speed.
I spent all day on Sunday in the kitchen. By the time I was done, I’ll admit that was frazzled. (“Oh. My. God. I have to cut a pound-and-a-half of carrots into quarter-inch dice? And I bought BABY carrots?”).
Ask The Angry Chef. He chopped the shallots for me because I was too distraught to do it. (“I didn’t start early enough. I didn’t realize I’d need to run out and get another bottle of port. I’m hungry and it smells so good.” And so on…)
The dog spent the afternoon with me, milling about the kitchen, snout in the air. (Yep, he’s vibrating.)
Oxtail marmalade is not a fast (or cheap) proposition
This recipe is definitely a labor of love.
All told, it took me about 6 hours to make. Granted, that’s not active cooking time (there’s a lot of simmering and reducing). In between, I made some ricotta, a coffee cake, and three dozen doughnuts.
It also cost about $40, between the wine, the port, and the meat.
Which is kind of over the top—especially when you consider that I love this stuff so much that I may have to make more immediately when I run out. (I can see it now: We’ll be the only couple who ever went bankrupt from an oxtail marmalade habit run amok.)
Seriously, though. Make this once. Cut the recipe in half (or quarters) to save some dough on ingredients. It’s definitely worth the time and effort.
Use wine and port that you would drink
It doesn’t have to be super expensive, but definitely use wine and port that you wouldn’t mind drinking. Reducing them only concentrates their flavors, so it makes sense to fill the pot with stuff you like. I used Yellow Tail Shiraz and Dow’s port.
How to make oxtail marmalade
There’s a few basic parts to this recipe. In a nutshell, here’s what you’re doing:
- Part 1: The Meat
Simmer the oxtails in red wine, port, garlic, peppercorns, and fresh thyme for about 3 hours, until the meat is so tender you can mistake it for barbecued, shredded beef. Remove all the meat from the bones, dice it up, set it aside.
- Part 2: The Sauce
Strain the braising liquid, reduce it, then thicken it with a big hunk of beurre manie, a paste of equal parts butter and flour. Set that aside. This stuff is so good you’ll want to bathe in it. Try it and tell me I’m wrong.
- Part 3: The Jammy Bits & Pieces
Saute carrots and shallots in butter, then add red wine vinegar, more port, and both brown and white sugars and cook until the liquid evaporates. (The vinegar and sugar makes a sort of gastrique, which is a piquant reduction usually served with meats.)
- Part 4: The Miracle of the Marmalade
Combine the oxtail meat, braising liquid, and sauteed veggies together. This is where the magic happens. (Where you exclaim, with your mouth full, “Oh, this was totally worth it.”) Mix well. Inhale.
Read on for detailed instructions on each step.
Serve with roasted marrow bones & challah toast
The good folks at Blue Ribbon serve this marmalade with marrow bones and challah toast. Take a peek here for how to make roasted marrow bones. (Blue Ribbon simmers theirs.)
How to buy oxtails
Find oxtails at your local butcher or in the meat case at most major major grocery stores in the U.S. If you don’t see any out, definitely ask if they have any in back or in the freezer.
Oxtails are literally just what they sound like: The tail of an ox. Or (more likely) a cow. They’re bony, but incredibly flavorful. Like all tough cuts, you have to coax it into tenderness with long, slow cooking.
4 pounds oxtail, trimmed of fat
6 cups port wine
6 cups dry red wine
4 quarts veal or chicken stock
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
1 Tbls. whole black peppercorns
8 Tbls. butter
3 Tbls. flour
4 cups carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
4 cups shallots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 lb.)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
Yields 4-5 cups of marmalade (surely enough to last for a few days, probably not enough to bathe in)
Part 1: Cook the Oxtails
Grab your oxtails.
Put them in the biggest, heavy-bottomed pot you have. I used my trusty 9-quart Le Creuset…and it wasn’t big enough. During the first hour it was on the stove, I had to keep topping it off with chicken broth as it simmered and reduced. It worked out just fine.
Pour in all the wine and 3 cups of the port.
Add all the stock.
Toss in the peppercorns and the fresh thyme.
Whack your head of garlic in half, like this, and throw both halves (wrapper and all) in the pot.
Give the pot a good stir.
Set the pot on the stove over medium-high heat until it starts to boil rapidly.
Reduce the heat a little, until the liquid holds a good simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
After 3 hours, your pot should look kind of gross and sludge-y, like this. The meat will be purple and positively poisonous looking. But that’s what you want.
(At this point, you’ll likely be saying something like, “Good grief, that looks like total *#$%! I don’t want to eat that.” Keep going. Trust me.)
Pull the meat out of the pot with tongs and set aside on a plate to cool.
(What’d I tell ya: Icky. Gross. Purple.)
The broth should thin and a deep mahogany in color. Set it aside. You’re going to reduce it. (See below…you can totally start making the sauce while you’re waiting for the meat to be cool enough to handle.)
When the meat is cool enough to handle, pull it off the bones with your hands (or a couple of forks). Discard the fat, bone, and any strange gristley stuff.
After 3 hours of cooking, these little beasties will be really tender, so the meat should shred right off.
Chop that meat up into small pieces.
Toss it all into a bowl. Cover it and stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the marmalade.
Part 2: Make the Sauce
Strain the braising liquid and discard the solids. Put the liquid in a large saucepan on the stove over high heat. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and hold it at a simmer. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it’s reduced to about 3 cups.
I have no idea 3 cups looks like in a pan. I measured my sauce after 1 1/2 hours, and it was just about 3 cups. If yours starts to look thick earlier than that, definitely measure it. It’ll be thick, opaque, and a dark, rich brown.
Put 3 Tablespoons of butter and 3 Tablespoons of flour in a small bowl.
Mash them together into a paste. (In French cooking, this is called a beurre manie, which literally means “kneaded butter.” You do this to keep the flour from forming lumps in your sauce. It’s an awesome way to thicken gravy.)
Whisk the butter/flour mixture into the reduced braising liquid over medium-high heat until it melts completely.
Cook like this for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside until you’re ready to assemble the marmalade. (Give it a taste. This stuff is a-ma-zing!)
Part 3: The Jammy Bits & Pieces
Dice the carrots and shallots. (I’m not a big mise-en-place gal, but do this in advance if you want. It’s a lot of chopping.)
Melt the remaining 5 Tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Toss in the diced carrots and shallots. Stir to coat in butter.
Saute over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until the veggies are starting to get soft and translucent.
Toss in the kosher salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of black pepper, and the white and brown sugars.
Pour in the remaining 3 cups of port and all the red wine vinegar. Stir to combine.
Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid has completely evaporated. This will take about 45 minutes.
When they’re done, your veggies should be completely cooked through. And…when they’re done, you’re ready (finally!) to put it all together!
Part 4: The Miracle of the Marmalade
Toss the chopped oxtail meat into the pan with the veggies.
Add the thickened braising liquid to the pan. (As it cools, it will get a little thicker. That’s just fine.)
Mix the whole thing together.
And…voila! You should be looking at a big pan of oxtail marmalade.
Keeps well in the fridge, tightly wrapped, for about 4 days.
(If, of course, it lasts that long.)