sichuan peppercorn red braised oxtail

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I was totally honoured… thrilled actually, when one of my favorite food-site Food52 invited me to share an heirloom (family) recipe for their column.  Oh why, me?!  Get out of here!  No doubt a little much-needed mint-drop in between all the craps that are leaving a bad taste in my mouth lately.  I mean recognition in any shape or form is super awesome but frankly, I can’t help but feeling a bit… like cheating, like the time when I innocently stole an unaware blanket from Cosco (dude, I swear to God it was an aaaaaccident!).  Well just between the two of us, maybe… because I suspect that Food52 probably has no idea… that I actually… Don’t have one.  Uhem, I trust that you can keep a secret.

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Now now now, just hear me out okay.  I must clarify by establishing what constitutes an “heirloom recipe”, right, which according to Google, means “valuable object (aka recipe) that has belonged to a family for SEVERAL generations”.  Hear that?  Several.  And clearly, every other participant in this particular column has diligently followed such definition… yah yah, I heard “grandmother” the first time a’ight.  Bravo.  Clap clap.  But you see, not to campaign for sympathy vote but purely an FYI for FACT-SAKE, my mom’s mom bye-byed when she was in sixth-grade, and my dad’s mom did so as well when I barely remembered things.  The only “recipe” she left was watercress spinach sauteed with ginger which you know, for the record was undoubtedly delicious but…  KAAA’MON, grandma!  How about something solid I could use to promote my blog, huh?!  Hey how about you, grandpa?  You got someth’n for me?  Oh right, never cooked a day in your life…

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So here I am, fresh out of grandpas and grandmas for a legitimate heirloom recipe… and I guess it’s too late to put myself up for adoption.  But in spite of the despair for a multi-generation story, I am glad and fortunate to say that – food finds a way, as my mother happens to be an excellent cook.  Excellent in the sense that in spite of being a product of her generation, a woman who walked into the kitchen not for the passion and curiosity for cooking, but compelled by the sense of duty that society imposed, she nonetheless turned out to be a celebrated one.  Natural talent… must have gotten it from me.  And for the first time ever to be written down in letters and numbers, I’m going to feature one of my favorite out of all her creations, a dish that I have been eating and making for the past 20 years – sichuan peppercorn red-braised oxtails.  Even though a baby-weight recipe only two generations-old, but knowing that on the other side of the world, you won’t be able to resist passing it down in your family when the INSANE aroma permeates your atmosphere, in the most unconventional but modern sense makes it, pretty heirloom.

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Because this dish involves caramelising the sugar, I strongly recommend doing the initial sautéing/woking in a NON-STICK pot, then transferring the ingredients to an oven-proof pot (like cast-iron) to finish braising in the oven.  In a non-stick pot, the caramelised sugar sticks to the meat instead of to the bottom of the pot, which can easily burn in my experience.  This process is called “red braise” in Chinese cooking, referring to the amber/red sheen from the caramel.

It’s quite important to grind the red sichuan peppercorn because they can be a bit unpleasant to bite into.  You can use a stone mortar or spice grinder to do this, but if you have none, simply wrap the peppercorns in 2 layers of paper towel and smash them with a hammer.

Ingredients:

  • 1530 grams of oxtail
  • 4 tbsp of oil
  • 50 grams (approx 10 large thin slices) of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 12 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 red chili, optional
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 tsp of red sichuan peppercorn, coarsely ground in a mortar or spice grinder
  • 1 tbsp of granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup of rice wine, or sake
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce + 1/8 cup for adjusting
  • 1 cup of chicken broth, or water
  • 1 tsp of rice vinegar

Preheat the oven on 320ºF/165ºC.

Rinse clean and dry the oxtail with a clean towel.  Heat up a large non-stick wok, or deep saute-pan with 4 tbsp of oil over HIGH heat (don’t worry about the amount of oil because it will be removed later).  Brown the oxtail in batches until entire surface is covered and no more blood is being released.  Set the oxtail aside.  Drain the oil and leave only 2 tbsp in the wok/pan, and turn the heat down to MEDIUM.  Add the ginger slices and cook until they shrivel up and get nicely browned on the edges, approx 5 min.  Add the oxtail back into the wok/pan, along with garlic (if you like it spicy, add 2 red chilis as well), star anise, sichuan peppercorn and granulated sugar.  Turn the heat back on HIGH, and keep turning the ingredients until the sugar has fully caramelised, and all the ingredients are coated in deep brown, amber sheen.

Transfer ALL the ingredients into a cast-iron or oven-proof pot, and return it to the stove.  Add the rice wine and 1/2 cup of soy sauce, and let it gently boil with all the ingredients for a minute (turn and evenly coat the ingredients).  Then add the chicken broth or water, and bring back to a simmer.  The amount of liquid shouldn’t be able to cover the ingredients (this isn’t a stew), and should taste slightly UNDER-SEASONED at this point because of the excess water, which will evaporate during the braising process.  If it taste generally BLAND, then adjust with more soy sauce.

Transfer the pot (with the lid on) to the oven and let braise for 3 ~ 3 1/2 hours.  Go back and turn the oxtail once every hour or so to ensure even braising.  The oxtail should be very tender and almost falling off the bone, and the braising liquid should have reduced dramatically.

After braising, carefully remove the oxtail from the braising liquid without tearing them.  Tilt the pot to direct all the braising liquid to one side, and skim off as much fat from the surface as you can, without reducing the actual sauce on the bottom (there should be QUITE a lot of fat).  Discard the star anise and ginger slices (press on the gingers to extract as much sauce that’s clinging onto them before discarding).  Leave the garlics which should have melted into the sauce at this point.  Return the oxtail back into the pot, and return it to the stove over HIGH heat.  Add 1 tsp of rice vinegar and reduce the sauce SLIGHTLY, just until the oxtail are coated in a shiny sheen.

Serve the oxtail over hot steamed rice.  They get even better the next day.

OR…

Braised ox tail and purple cabbage slaw sandwich:

  • 1/2 purple cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp of Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp of mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tsp of rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 loaf of rustic country bread
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • 1 garlic, sliced in half for rubbing the bread

Mix thinly sliced purple cabbage, onion, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, rice vinegar, salt, ground cumin and ground black pepper.  Let sit for at least 20 min.  Remove all the meat from the ox tails and discard the bones.  Mix and coat the meat evenly in its braising sauce and warm up slightly (just a gentle simmer) over the stove.  Set aside.

Slice the bread and drizzle evenly with extra virgin olive oil and some black pepper.  Toast under the broiler until golden brown on both sides, then immediately rub the garlic over the surface of the bread while it’s still hot.  Generously apply a layer of braised ox tail, some braising sauce over the meat. and purple cabbage slaw between the sandwich.  Serve immediately while it’s hot.

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20 Comments

  • Dear god… those sandwiches… Pass that recipe down to me!

    I do not care whether not it is a new recipe or it is passed down, as long as it produces results like these: I am sold. Thank you so candid about “heirloom recipes” it make people like me (very small family, no grandparents or others) feel a bit better when we do not get recipes from ancient wisdom but electronic devices.

    Also still thinking about your dog, and sending my best wishes.

  • have never made oxtail before…but this is finally the recipe that i’m going to try….looks amazing………but, most of all, so sorry to read about you dog……having been through this myself, with my girl margaret………little hope, but hoping beyond hope for the best….my thoughts are with you

  • You should have your own show in COOKING CHANNEL! All your food and pastry recipes are EXCELLENT ,CLASSY and WELL THOUGHT compared to the other CHEFS in Food network that they just keep on dumping,and dumping all the ingredients until they masked the natural flavor of the food. The way you explore and dissect the food is the way Anthony Bourdain and WOlfgang Puck will surely explain and prepare it.

    I tried most of your recipes already! Hope you continue doing this.

    • Thanks everyone for the good wishes you are giving my French bulldog, Bado. She would like me to give all of you a big, wet lick on the face for her (she somehow still believes that people love it). And also on my own behalf, I want thank you for the support you are giving me. I will try my best to keep up.

  • Great recipe! It’s always fun to see people’s reaction when they taste Sichuan pepper for the first time. I’m from Chongqing and it certainly is my favorite spice.

    I was wondering, do you plan to write a post about your photography set/tips sometime? I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times but your photos are AWESOME. I would love to know how you create them.

    • Tyr, thank you! I really am an amateur in photography but if you really wanna know, I use a Canon 650D camera with EF 50mm 1:1.8 lens. Almost all posts are taken with artificial lighting because that’s when we eat! Late! And I do use photoshop for the editing, which I admit can make quite a difference (contrast, color-balancing). Let me know if you are curious about anything else :)

  • Sorry if this is awkward, but we are now sisters. I’m adopting myself into your family because I made this last night and, hot damn. I want in. Why didn’t you tell me to make a double batch sis? Seriously thanks for the recipe – it was amazing.

  • It was a great recipe; except that the proportions for the soy sauce seemed really off… I used 5 pounds of oxtails and 1/2 c of soy sauce rendered the braising liquid waaaay too salty; especially since it was going to cook down even more! Also needed to up the sugar….

    • VICKY: OH I’m sorry about that :( The thing about writing recipe with Asian seasoning is that the saltiness and sweetness between brands varies ENORMOUSLY. The soy sauce I used may be on the less salty side with more sweetness, and vice versa. Next time I will calculate that into the recipe instruction. THANK YOU.

  • Sweet baby Jesus, this is AMAZING. Just made the oxtail for dinner and, damn girl, it tastes heavenly.
    Thanks for the recipe

  • How many does this recipe serve? And, I love your blog. Thanks to your recipies my friends think of me as a chef :)

  • i made this for yesterday’s dinner! the texture of the oxtail was to die for – super soft and falling off the bone. I cooked it in a pressure cooker and had food on my table in an hour :)

    It was terribly salty though and almost ruined the meal, which is weird considering that half cup of soy sauce isn’t a lot and my chicken broth isn’t salted. I’ll probably do without the chicken broth and use less soy sauce next time, probably grossly under-salt it and add the salt later on. Thank you for this awesome recipe!

  • I braised in the oven for about 3.5 hours and all the liquid was gone. So, after removing from the oven, I had to add more water, soy sauce, and sugar… scraped up the bits and simmered it down to make more sauce. Overall, the flavor of the oxtail was delicious! Your recipes never fail, thanks Mandy!

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