By Michael A. Gardiner
Of the many wonderful things to be found in Spain, the traditional home of Sephardic Jews — including the architecture, art, music, and fashion — the greatest has to be the food.
My favorite tapa on our trip to Seville was a very simple, very elegant, and deeply flavored little bowl of oxtail stew we tasted in Santa Cruz, Seville’s old Jewish Quarter. In addition to being the home of tapas, Andalusia is also the home to bullfighting. One tradition in Spain is that wherever there’s a big bullring, there’s a restaurant that serves the bull’s tail (the rabo of the toro) after the fight. Braising the oxtails in one of Andalusia’s other great exports (sherry) brings out the savory succulence and incredible tenderness that time and patience reveal in this seemingly tough ingredient. The chive buds —an ingredient readily available at Asian markets — are an elegant and tasty garnish. They are, however, purely optional.
For the contemporary version I braise the oxtails in the traditional ingredients but, after refrigerating the oxtails in the braising liquid overnight, I defat then strain the broth before clarifying it. The result is a clean and clear broth with dramatic oxtails and simple garnishes.
Sevilla-style Rabo de Toro (Oxtail Stew)
4 large oxtail segments (3 to 4 pounds total)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour for dusting
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 leeks, white parts only, cleaned, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced across
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
4 cups Beef Stock
1 cup dry sherry (fino or Manzanilla)
2 bay leaves
4 large egg whites
4 chive buds (optional)
- Season the oxtails with salt and pepper and sprinkle with flour to create a light dusting. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Working in batches, sear the oxtails until evenly browned, about 30 seconds per side, then transfer them to a plate.
- Heat the second tablespoon of the olive oil in the same pot over medium-low heat, then stir in the leeks, onion, and carrot and sweat the vegetables just until the onion turns translucent, stirring all the while to deglaze the pan with the liquids from the vegetables, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper and tomatoes and cook until they lose their texture, about another 10 minutes.
- Return the oxtails to the pot along with the beef stock and sherry and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the bay leaves. When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the oxtails are tender, about 3 hours. Remove the oxtails from the broth and pour the broth through a conical or fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Return the oxtails to the broth, let it cool, then cover and transfer to the refrigerator and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, skim the fat from the top of the broth, remove the oxtails and hold on a plate. Transfer the chilled stock to a medium pot. Place the egg whites in a medium bowl and whip until just starting to foam. Whisk the beaten egg whites into the broth and set over medium heat. Bring the broth just to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Don’t let it reach a full boil. A “raft” will appear on the surface as the proteins in the egg whites coagulate — you’ll know it when you see it. This raft is the engine that cleanses the broth by gathering the impurities. As this happens, stop stirring and let the broth simmer gently for about 30 minutes, adjusting the heat to keep it below a full boil.
- Carefully agitate the bottom of the pot with a spatula to loosen any raft that may be caught. Simmer the broth gently for about 5 minutes, breaking the surface of the raft as necessary to allow some of the pressure to escape. When the raft is solid and you can no longer see impurities rising to the surface, remove the pan from the heat. Using a ladle, pass the clear liquid off through a fine-mesh strainer into another soup pot, return the oxtails to the pot and reheat the broth and oxtails over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes.
- To serve, arrange 1 to 2 oxtails in the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle the broth over. Garnish each oxtail with a chive bud.