I owe my existence to a mining engineer. Without Bill’s passion for food, as well as rare minerals, I wouldn’t be blogging today. It was Bill who took his daughter Sharon, my alter-ego, under his formidable wing and taught her to cook.
Sundays would see Bill in his tiny, lemon-hued 1950s kitchen pouring over one of his many fish-splattered and chocolate-speckled cook books. Sharon was there, too, in her pleated skirt with her blouse hanging out, helping him find the canned pineapple bits, the dented metal flour canister, or the bulbs of golden garlic.
They whipped up savory delicacies like Hawaiian chicken with water chestnuts on a bed of wild rice. Or a hearty, tender slab of beef in a robe of mushrooms, herbs and walnuts, all entombed in flaky pastry.
But their favorite by a long shot was a recipe hidden in a slender, cloth-bound dark turquoise book called Clémentine in the Kitchen. Penned in 1943 by Phineas Beck, the book chronicles the cooking lives of an American family in France in the 1930s, under the loving guidance of their chef Clémentine. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, they upped and returned home, but not without taking Clémentine with them. The chapters read like blog posts… short, homey, and peppered with recipes and drawings. Maybe you can find a copy in the library or on Abe Books? Fun to read and an open window on a dangerous time!
The best of these recipes was Clementine’s Hochepot de Queue de Boeuf. For those of you who don’t speak French, this brings me back to the title of my post. If you’re not so hungry you could eat an ox, I bet you could handle a taste of its tail. Believe me, once you’ve had a few bites, you won’t stop until every last morsel has gone down the red brae (Bill’s expression… throat).
Ideally, Bill and Sharon would cook up this ox tail stew over several days. In the 1950s the concept of fast food had yet to arrive! They’d start by soaking the tail joints overnight and would continue in the morning with a slow roast over low heat. The stock was strained, then chilled in the fridge over night. The following day the meat would be dressed, baked again, and served with a flourish.
It was such a treat, that Sharon tried preparing this dish on her own for a party of her friends years later, at university. In a rush, as are most students, she didn’t leave it enough time. Sadly the larger pieces didn’t thank her for it.
If you too would like to try your hand at it, and hopefully arrive at a better result than Sharon did her first time out solo, here’s Clémentine’s recipe. It features simple, fresh ingredients, lovingly prepared.
Clémentine’s Hochepot de Queue de Boeuf
[AKA Ox Tail Stew]
Soak an oxtail cut in joints in cool water for at least 2 hours, wipe dry with a clean cloth, and brown in butter with 4 onions and 3 carrots, coarsely chopped. [I’ve been known to dredge them, before browning, in flour seasoned with lots of paprika (¼ cup flour, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon paprika). Clémentine would shudder at the thought. Give it enough time and flour isn't necessary.]
When the meat is browned add 2 cloves crushed garlic. Cover for 2 min. Add 3 tablespoons of brandy. Light it and let it burn. Add half a bottle dry white wine and enough bouillon so that the meat bathes in liquid. Add pepper and a bouquet garni. Cook slowly, lid off, 3 hours. [I make this dish the day before up to this point. I put the meat into a bowl and store it separately from the stock in the fridge overnight.]
The next day, remove the fat from the stock, then reheat and strain the liquid.
In a casserole, saute in butter a half pound tiny mushrooms, a good handful of diced bacon and a dozen tiny onions, peeled.
Add the meat and the strained and defatted stock to the casserole, just enough to cover. Save the rest for a soup dish another day. Cover and cook for one hour more in a slow oven. The meat should be soft and the sauce unctuous.
Note below that Gourmet Magazine was going strong in 1943. Bon Appétit!
From Clémentine in the Kitchen, by Phineas Beck
Hastings House, Publishers, New York, 1943
Published in cooperation with Gourmet Magazine
So ends the story of how Sharon learned to love trying out new recipes and discovered the joys of patience in the kitchen.