Let’s start with Braised Oxtail & Padróns.
Yup, the experiments with Padrón peppers have been ongoing, what with us getting them every week now for several weeks. I look back on that “I never make them any other way” thing I wrote two months ago (have we been getting them for that long? Wow!) and just laugh. Granted, that is a superb way to prepare them, but you know the old saw about too much of a good thing… ya don’t want to go losing your taste for them! With this braise, they lent just the right amount of heat – sort of like a chili, but with a twist.
Here’s the ingredient list:
Beef oxtails (or any braise-worthy cut with lots of good fat and connective tissue. I used my wonderful Morris Grassfed Beef oxtails, of course!)
Other sweet peppers from the box
Leeks and celery from the box
Several tomatoes from the box; dry-farm, heirloom or both is fine
Oregano or marjoram
Take your meat out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to begin cooking. Since you’re going to be browning it, it’s best not to put cold meat into a hot pan, as it’ll tend to boil/steam rather than brown. Blot away excess juices and sprinkle with salt on all sides. Then let that rest while you chop up the other ingredients.
And chopping is really all you need to do. Just cut the tops off the padrons and roughly chop; no need to seed them. Chop the other veggies in your usual fashion. The only thing I chopped small was the garlic. And I used leeks ‘cuz I had ’em; you could just as easily use onions.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. A braise is just long-cooking in low heat with not a lot of liquid (much like a crock-pot, actually).
Brown meat on all sides in a heavy-bottomed skillet (you know me, I swear by cast iron, but use whatever you have) and transfer to an oven-worthy pot with a close fitting lid. Try to use a pot that will fit the meat snugly (it will reduce in cooking).
In the same pan you browned the meat in, add your peppers (all kinds) to the fat and cook, stirring, until they soften and start to brown. Add leeks (or onions) and celery and continue the softening/browning process. I find lately I prefer adding the garlic last, because it cooks so quickly relative to the other items in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and oregano. [sorry about the dirty stove! I cook a lot ;-)]
When the veggies are good (not too critical; are they softening and maybe browned a bit in spots? That’s fine.), scrape all that out of the pan and on top of the meat in the pot, sort of tucking/poking it down between the pieces a little. Put the pan back on the burner and deglaze with a little water or stock or wine or what-have-you. I think I used a little vermouth, actually, because I had it on the shelf! But water is just fine. And if you don’t know what deglazing is – it is simply putting a little liquid into a pan that has cooking detritus stuck to the bottom of it; you stir the liquid around over a little heat and scrape up the stuck bits – helps cleanup later AND you get this great flavored liquid for your braise! Anyway, pour that over the meat and veggies (I like to use a silicone spatula to get every last bit of pan-browned goodness), then put the chopped tomatoes on top. Believe it or not, that little bit of deglazing liquid combined with the juice the tomatoes will give off during cooking (the veggies will contribute some too) is all the liquid you’ll need.
Put the lid on and stick it in the preheated oven. So now, “long and low” is the ticket. Check it after an hour, hour and a half; by now it should be bubbling and aromatic. Wipe the drool from your mouth (not over the pot!), and maybe turn the pieces of meat and spoon the veggies/juices over them. Put the lid back on and continue to cook for at least another hour. I did mine for 2 1/2 hrs all together, but as long as the liquid doesn’t evaporate, you can let it go for even longer. Turn the heat off but leave the pot in the oven for another hour even. The result should be tender meat that is practically falling off the bone (my favorite part is the connective tissue, which gelatinizes and and is succulent, unctuous). And the veggies, together with the meat juices and fat, will have formed a delicious sauce with the chili-kick of Padróns! It is all even better reheated the next day. Mmmm, now I’m hungry!