Every now and then, my mother breaks into a little random reminiscing about “the good old days”
You know, saying things like “In the old days, young people used to be much more respectful of their elders!”
Or, “the air used to be cleaner!”
Or, as the case may be, “I used to get ox tails for free when I bought beef ribs from the butcher! Now, if I’m lucky I can get them for $9 a kilo!”
Can you imagine? When my mother first immigrated to Australia, her local butcher just gave away ox tails willy nilly, as if it were utterly worthless. Nowadays, I’ve got to be quick off the mark if I want to get them at all as all the butchers that I frequent usually sell out of them within a few days of getting them in!
It’s understandable, I suppose. What, with the meat to bone ratio and all the skin, gristle and fat that comes along with ox tail, it was really considered pauper food and one that was only made edible through incredibly long cooking. This was country fare, and as such, is just one of the many foods that I was brought up on through my mother’s loving hands.
People who say that cooking Korean cuisine is difficult aren’t far off the mark. Personally, I think that what it comes down to is the fact that you can’t rush Korean cooking. You just can’t. If you rush it or use half-measures, then the difference will show in the end result, and that’s not what you want.
Korean cuisine is traditionally the dominion of the Korean mother. A mother who spends hours in the kitchen, preparing everything by hand while mixing, measuring, tasting. A mother who uses her food to show her family how much she loves them.
This is everything that traditional Korean cuisine represents to me.
From the moment that I could walk, my mother had me in the kitchen as her little helper. The one who opened bottles and jars when her hands were covered in some sauce or marinade. The one who ran dirty utensils to the sink. The one who sat alongside her and tasted the food that she was making, developing an understanding of how each ingredient came into play.
As the eldest of our little tribe, I continued on being the kitchen helper as we grew up, meaning that I was the fortunate one who grew up with a lot of my mother’s understanding of cooking. This is one of the things that I’m most grateful to my mother for, as if I ever become a mother, hopefully one day I’ll be able to pass on such an education to my children as well.
Korean Sweet Soy-Braised Oxtail
Ingredients (feeds 5-6 people)
4kg oxtail (approx 4 oxtails) – ask your butcher to cut up the joints for you
1 1/2 cups Korean soy sauce
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup Korean malt cooking syrup
1 large onion
2 nashi/Asian pears
2 sweet apples (we always use Fuji apples)
200g daikon / Chinese radish
2 tbsp toasted Asian sesame oil
1 tbsp freshly ground pepper
4 cups water
4 medium-sized carrots
2 large onions
1. Trim the skin and fat from the outside of each joint, as below. Don’t worry about the tendons, the long slow braise will disintegrate these during the cooking process
2. Once you’ve trimmed each tail joined, cover with cold water and soak for an hour. This removes most of the blood from the meat and also helps to get rid of the meaty smell – something quite important in Korean cuisine. (A finished dish with large cuts of meat that smells of meat is considered a sign of a bad cook :P)
3. Once the meat has soaked for an hour, drain it for an hour. Then bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add the tail joints for 10 minutes – this removes a little more blood and cleans a lot of the smaller pieces of fat and gristle from the meat.
4. Once the tail joints are par-boiled, drain them for another hour. While the meat is draining, prepare your marinade – pour the soy sauce into a medium-sized pot.
5. Then add the sugar, malt syrup, sesame oil and ground pepper.
6. Use a blender to grind the nashi pear to pulp, then add it directly to the pot.
7. Next, blend together the apple, Chinese radish and onion to a smooth pulp and work through a fine mesh sieve so only the liquid is added to the pot.
8. Once you’ve extracted most of the liquid from the second puree, heat the liquid to a slow simmer and stir till the sugar and malt syrup have completely dissolved. Set the marinade aside to cool.
9. While the marinade is cooling, prepare the vegetables by peeling them and cutting them into roughly even pieces.
10. Once the marinade is cooled down, add to a large pot along with the meat and leave to marinate for an hour. Then add the water, put the lid on tightly and cook over the lowest heat possible for another hour, turning every 20 minutes to ensure the marinade takes evenly to the meat.
11. Now add the vegetables and stir through, then put the lid on again and braise on a very low heat for another 2 hours, making sure to carefully stir the contents every 20 minutes to ensure everything is cooking evenly.
The thing about this marinade is that you can also use it on beef short ribs, cooked the same way as the above. It can even be used on sliced beef – all you need to do is boil it up then store it in the fridge in an airtight jar till required. It’s a good way to cut down some of the prep time as if you do this all in one hit then you’re looking at spending pretty much all day on this dish.
Mind you, not that I don’t think it’s worth it