We usually consume our oxtails in an Italian-style ragu. But with Chinese New Year upon us — and the Year of the Ox, at that — it seemed like an Asian preparation would be more appropriate.
In the world of Chinese oxtail recipes, the options generally boil down to either a hearty braise with root vegetables, or a simple long-simmered soup. In the latter, the meat is simmered for hours until it’s meltingly tender, then served in two parts, much like a French pot-au-feu: a platter of meat with a piquant dipping sauce, and a bowl of clear broth to fill the belly and provide a respite from the spicy, meaty main.
Usually, rice would accompany the meat, but in the spirit of the New Year celebration, we opted to add noodles — which signify long life — to the broth. If you’re not so keen on eating out of two separate bowls, you can pull the meat off the oxtails and stir it in with the noodles and broth, then serve with the sauce on the side for each diner to stir in as she chooses.
2-1/2 to 3 pounds of meaty oxtail
2 chicken drumsticks (or any two pieces of dark meat)
3- to 4-inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
2 tsp whole Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine (or medium-dry sherry), divided use
6-8 oz dry rice noodles (your choice of width)
salt to taste
1T peanut oil
1/4 cup Sichuan-style chili bean paste
2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
Soak the oxtail pieces in cold water for 30 minutes, then discard the soaking water.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add the oxtail and chicken, and return to a boil. Skim off any foam that floats to the top, then reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer, stirring occasionally and adding water as needed to keep the oxtails mostly submerged.
Smash the ginger with the back of a knife or other heavy object. Add it to the pan along with the peppercorns and 1/4 cup of the Shaoxing wine. Partially cover the pan, and simmer for at least 3 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Heat the peanut oil in a wok or skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add the chili bean paste, and stir fry until the oil is deep red and the sauce is fragrant. Pour the sauce into a heatproof bowl; when cooled, add the soy sauce and sesame oil.
At the end of the simmering time, the oxtail should be very tender and the meat will pull away from the bone but not completely separate from it. Remove the oxtails to a plate, discarding the simmered-out chicken parts. Pick off any peppercorns that stick to the oxtails and discard. Drain the broth through a fine seive, discarding the peppercorns and ginger, and return the clear dark broth to the pot. You should have about 6-8 cups of soup at this point; add additional cold water if needed, or simmer down the broth. Once you have the proper quantity, add the remaining 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine, then salt the broth to taste. Return the oxtails to the pan and gently reheat until very hot. (If you want to serve the soup in one bowl, pick the meat from the bones before returning it to the broth.)
Meanwhile, prepare the rice noodles according to package directions. (Usually this involves soaking the noodles in boiling water, as opposed to simmering them.) When cooked, divide the noodles among 4 soup bowls, then ladle the hot broth over them. Serve the oxtails in a separate large bowl or tureen, moistened with a bit of the broth, and allow each diner to choose their piece, eating it out of a rice bowl by pulling the meat off the bone and dipping it in the sauce to taste.