Remembering old soldiers with Clementine’s oxtail stew

Dad in the kitchenLest we forget…

In honor of Remembrance Day, on what would have been my dad’s 97th birthday, I’m re-working a dish from 2013 that originated during the Second World War.

I’m talking about my father’s recipe for a fine French oxtail stew from a cookbook called Clementine in the Kitchen. Clementine’s Hochepot de Queue de Boeuf was Dad’s choice for marking special occasions, and once you try it, it might very well become yours, too!

Clementine in the Kitchen

Clémentine in the Kitchen

A slender, cloth-bound, dark-turquoise book, Clémentine in the Kitchen chronicled 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, the family returned to the States… but not without Clémentine in tow. Penned in 1943 by Phineas Beck, the chapters read like blog posts… short, homey, and peppered with recipes and drawings,  opening a window for us on a dangerous time.

The best of these recipes was Clémentine’s Hochepot de Queue de Boeuf, an oxtail stew. Once you’ve had a few bites, you’ll wonder why nobody ever introduced you to this marvelous taste experience before.

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It’s a tail, of course… from a beef cow

In the 1940s most cooking was of the slow-food variety. So this tasty stew is best prepared over 2 days. If you would like to try your hand at it, here’s Clémentine’s recipe. I’ve modified the instructions to make it a bit easier to follow (perhaps). If you modify it yourself, don’t skimp on the total cooking time. This dish features simple, fresh ingredients, lovingly prepared over many hours. Perfect for remembering.

See the flames? Awesome!

See the flames from the burning brandy? Awesome!

Clémentine’s Hochepot de Queue de Boeuf
(Ox Tail Stew)
Serves 8

  • 2 oxtails, cut into joints
  • 2 medium cooking onions
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 small rutabaga
  • 2 average parsnips
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 large leek
  • a bouquet garni
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • several good grinds of black pepper
  • oil for braising (e.g., 2-3 tablespoons coconut or canola oil)
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • half a bottle dry white wine or a good red wine
  • 1 cup bouillon or as needed
  • pepper and Worcestershire sauce to taste
  • half pound small mushrooms
  • a good handful of diced bacon
  • a dozen small onions, like Cipollini if you can get them
  • 16 baby potatoes
  • 1 large carrot

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I make this stew over 2 days to cut down on the last minute stress

  1. The day before your dinner party, soak the oxtail joints in cool water for at least 1 hour, especially if you are starting from frozen. The meat must be completely thawed.
  2. Peel the onions, carrots, rutabaga and parsnip. Chop the onions. Slice the carrots and parsnip. Cut the rutabaga into cubes. Chop the celery ribs, discarding the leafy part. Cut the dark green end off the leek and discard, then slice the white portion up one side and run the flesh under cold water to remove any sand or dirt, then slice the white portion. Assemble fresh herbs for the bouquet garni (thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, and/or oregano). Peel the garlic and chop.
  3. Drain the tail joints and wipe them dry with paper towel.
  4. Mix the flour, salt and pepper on a plate or in a plastic bag and dredge the pieces of oxtail to lightly coat. This step is optional, depending on how thick you ultimately like the gravy. Heat the oil in two frying pans and brown the oxtail joints on all sides. Remove them and drain on paper towel.
  5. Add half the vegetables to each pan and fry over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add crushed garlic. Cover for 2 minutes.
  7. Heat the brandy gently in the microwave (15 seconds on high). Light it as you pour it over the veggies in one of the pans and let it burn. BE CAREFUL. Wear a heat-proof glove, maybe.
  8. Transfer the veggies from both pans to a large, deep soup pot.
  9. Use the half bottle of wine to deglaze the two frying pans and pour the liquid over the veggies in the soup pot.
  10. Arrange the oxtail joints on top of the veggies, with the largest ones crowded around the edge and the smaller ones filling the gaps. Add enough bouillon so that the meat bathes in liquid. Add pepper, several shakes of Worcestershire sauce, and the bouquet garni.
  11. Cook slowly on the stove top, lid off, 3 hours. The liquid should be gently bubbling.
  12. Transfer the oxtail joints to a large bowl and store them separately from the stock, both in the fridge overnight.

Day 2

  1. The next day, preheat the oven to 350 ̊ F (175 ̊ C).
  2. Scrape the fat from the surface of the stock and discard the fat. Then reheat the stock. Strain the liquid into a large, oven-proof casserole. Press the soft veggies through a sieve into the liquid. Discard the fibrous bits left in the sieve. (Sometimes, though, the residue is substantial and tasty enough that you can put it into a bowl and keep it for another dish another day.)
  3. Fry the bacon in a pan on the stove top until crispy, drain the fat, and chop the bacon.
  4. Scrub the potatoes and cut the larger ones in half.
  5. Rinse the mushrooms and dry them on a paper towel.
  6. Peel the onions and leave them whole.
  7. Peel the carrot and cut it into thin strips. You need four or five strips per person for a nice presentation. You might need two carrots.
  8. Add the joints to the liquid in the casserole, placing the larger pieces to the outside, as before. Put the potatoes, carrots, and bacon on top of the meat and  cover. Bake for one hour in the preheated oven.
  9. Remove the lid and add the mushrooms and onions. Cook for another hour. Leave the lid off at this point. When the meat is falling off the bone, the veggies are fork-tender, and the sauce is thick and unctuous, the stew is ready to serve.
  10. Serve sprinkled with chopped cilantro (optional).
Adapted from Clémentine in the Kitchen, by Phineas Beck
Hastings House, Publishers, New York, 1943
Published in cooperation with Gourmet Magazine

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Our hochepot after the first day.

Dinner was even more delicious than Sharon remembered. Cooking the dish over 2 days made it effortless. You won't be sorry you tried it :)

Dinner on day 2.

Cooking the dish over 2 days makes this dish manageable. Try it. You won’t be sorry! :)

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Renee Lalane
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 23:03:45

    Nothing like the aroma of a slow cooked soup like this one, it fills the house with love and memories your family will cherish for a lifetime. Keep on sharing the memories.

    Reply

  2. kimthedietitian
    Apr 06, 2014 @ 18:53:23

    Awesome, Vinny!!

    Reply

  3. Amintiri Din Bucatarie
    Mar 12, 2014 @ 02:42:43

    The outcome is simply mouth watering …. I miss my dad’s cooking, I’ll ask him to prepare something nice this weekend 🙂
    regards, Oana

    Reply

  4. Raphaelle
    Nov 16, 2013 @ 09:14:34

    I just love those kinds of recipes. So delicious when the meat is cooked long enough so the it fells of the bone without any efforts. Yum and well done!

    Reply

  5. bloggingbyrgottier
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 17:33:15

    I used to watch my mom cook & bake & take all the goodies from what was left in the bowls from what she almost would throw away. I would get those parts to snack on as I learned of all the great things she would do & try them out later in life. I finally got to do that & was good as long as I watched what I did standing over what I cooked. I normally had to use a cookbook all the time for anything I would make. It’s so easy except when you don’t have all the ingredients all the time. Otherwise I would just make a lot of simple things to eat on. Cans of this & lots of fresh fruits & vegetables along with steak & potatoes too. This was my life as a chef or when I was cooking.
    Rodney

    Reply

    • Vinny Grette
      Nov 15, 2013 @ 17:38:31

      I always thought that if you can read, you can cook. But I’ve found it also helps to have a guardian angel standing behind you when you’re first starting out, to catch those inevitable mistakes. Thank goodness for helpful parents :)!

      Reply

  6. foggydaydreams
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 15:36:11

    Thanks for popping by and taking a peek at my blog! This is right up my alley…will definitely be trying! Thank you!!!

    Reply

  7. MamaD1xx4xy
    Nov 13, 2013 @ 12:57:43

    I am lucky enough to have a husband who booths cooks and bakes well! When he gets a chance to create things in the kitchen the boys enjoy watching his every move.

    Reply

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