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 94rd birthday, I’m re-posting a feature that touches on times during the Second World War.

Let’s take a minute to thank our parents and their parents for their sacrifices in the Great Wars of the previous century and those since.

We should also thank our moms and dads for all those kitchen wars they fought, putting food on the table for us. Without their example, we might not have turned out to be quite the whizzes in the kitchen we are today.

Read on. The memories are mine. Dad’s recipe for a fine French oxtail stew from Clementine can now be yours!

Are you Hungry enough to eat an Ox?
(Most times we settled for a turkey… but not always)

I owe my on-line 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.

Clementine in the Kitchen

Clementine in the Kitchen

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? It’s fun to read and it opens a window for us on a dangerous time! Did I mention the delicious recipes?

The best of these recipes was Clementine’s Hochepot de Queue de Boeuf. For those of you who don’t speak French, it means oxtail stew. Now don’t quit reading quite yet. Once you’ve had a few bites, you won’t stop until every last morsel has gone down the red brae (Bill’s expression… translating once again, it’s Scottish for “throat”).


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

Ideally, Bill and Sharon would cook up this 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.

If you too would like to try your hand at it, here’s Clémentine’s recipe. It features simple, fresh ingredients, lovingly prepared. Perfect for Remembrance Day.

See the flames? Awesome!

See the flames? Awesome!

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 minutes. 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


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.

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! :)


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.


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

    Awesome, Vinny!!


  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


  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!


  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.


    • 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 :)!


  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!!!


  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.


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