Thursday, March 22, 2012

Soft Polenta with Braised Oxtails and Red Wine Mushroom Sauce

What exactly does one do with leftover oxtails?

Now, there's a question I hadn't expecting to be asking. And yet, there I was. Fresh off the thrill of making oxtail stock for French Onion soup, with a bowlful of slowly braised oxtails and nothing to do with them.

Because, I don't know about you, but oxtails are not usually in my culinary repertoire.

It seemed an absolute shame for these to go to waste, so I went hunting. It seems oxtails, being a cheaper cut of meat, are perfect for long braises and soup bases. Well, wonderful. But what if you were already serving an oxtail-based soup?

Well, as I've always said, there are few things polenta can't solve.

Turns out, oxtails are perfect companions for polenta. The softness of the meat after it's been stewing for 3 hours or so still has just enough bite to balance out the polenta. Add in a red wine sauce with mushrooms and you have yourself a hearty end of winter meal.

This, I should admit, was also my first attempt at a "proper" sauce. I usually have little time for them, but the oxtails needed a flavor boost to round out the polenta dish. The one I opted for was a basic red wine sauce with mushrooms and shallots but ended up being the perfect complement to the other two components. Yes, it takes a good hour to make the sauce ("as it should!" some people might say), but it's wonderfully complex and elevates the lowly polenta and oxtail to new haute cuisine heights.

Braised Oxtails

I don't recommend making these *purely* for this dish, as it takes about 2-3 hours of slow stewing. I used them as leftovers from my French Onion soup recipe, which started with a base of oxtail stock. Now, if you're interested in making oxtail stock (which you should be, as it's fabulous), see here for the recipe. 
And then, behold! You have braised oxtails, ready and willing for polenta purposes.

Otherwise, for this recipe, feel free to substitute roast chicken, pork, or beef as the meat topper to the dish. It's hard to go wrong. 

Soft Polenta

Makes about 4 cups (4-6 servings)

4 cups water

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup yellow cornmeal

2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

Bring the water and butter to a boil in a large saucepan.

Pour in the cornmeal very slowly, whisking constantly.

Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the polenta is thick and comes away from the sides of the pan as it is stirred and the cornmeal has lost its raw taste, 30-40 minutes.

Stir in the Parmesan and the salt. Serve under the oxtails and red wine sauce. 

Red Wine Sauce

2 tablespoons canola oil

8 ounces shallots, sliced (about 2 cups)

10-15 chestnut mushrooms, sliced thinly

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 750-ml bottle Pinot Noir or other dry red wine (see picture for my choice in cheap-o cooking wine) 

1 14-ounce can low-salt chicken broth

1 14-ounce can beef broth

2 fresh thyme sprigs

1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

1 Turkish bay leaf

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon flour


Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add shallots and mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 12 minutes.  

Sprinkle sugar over; sauté until mixture is deep brown, about 4 minutes longer. 

Add vinegar; stir until liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. 

Add wine; boil until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. 

Add both broths, thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaf; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer uncovered 35 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally. 

Strain sauce through a fine mesh strainer. (If you want a "pure" sauce, discard the solids at this point. I wanted the richness of the mushrooms and shallots with my polenta so I saved them to be added in at the end.)

Mix butter and flour in small bowl. 

Bring sauce to simmer over medium-high heat; gradually whisk in flour mixture. 

Cook until sauce is reduced to 1 1/4 cups, about 5 minutes. You can mix in the reserved solids if you want at this point.


  1. That sounds *so* good! Hmmm...Joel's business partner Jon is visiting in early April and he's a real foodie/cook. Maybe I need to show Joel these two recipes and encourage him and Jon to cook some nights rather than going out!

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