Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Surf and Turf" -- Sautéed Monkfish Tail with Braised Oxtails, Salsify and Cèpes

Me: This is a dish that fell flat on its face, and I really wanted to kick it while it was down.

You: Gee, Carol. Tell us how you really feel.

Let's not pull any punches here. This dish was a disappointment. I take responsibility for some of it (you'll see why in a minute), but I also knew going into it that I would probably have a so-so reaction at best for a number of reasons: 1) the ingredients didn't excite me; 2) I was in kind of a bad mood when I made it; and, 3) oxtails can be tricky and I had a feeling mine wouldn't fare well.

Don't get me wrong -- I love me some oxtail. I actually order it when I see it on a restaurant menu because when they're done well, they're fantastic. And when they're not, well, welcome to my world. It's amazing to me that this dish has me in such a funk that I don't even feel like doing this write-up. I actually considered just posting a photo of the finished dish with a sentence or two along the lines of, "I just don't feel like writing about this, so DEAL with it, PEOPLE." But I did not. You're welcome. I am going to make myself write about every single cotton-pickin' step in this dish, but I will not tell you why it's called "oxtail" even though it's really a cow's tail. And the reason I will not tell you is because I don't know. And I don't feel like looking it up. Stupid, rassin'-frassin' oxtails.

Speaking of oxtails, let's start with that (oh joy!). I marinated them in The French Laundry Cookbook's red wine marinade for about 18 hours:

The next day, I put the meat in one bowl and the vegetables in another, while I strained the marinade through a double-cheesecloth-lined sieve into a saucepan:

It looks like Grimace threw up in that pan, doesn't it?

I slowly heated the Grimace vomit, I mean marinade, until it began simmering. I skimmed the impurities off the top and once it was clean, I removed it from the heat and set it aside for later use.

Time to cook the oxtails. I can't even muster an exclamation point for that last sentence. I patted each oxtail dry and lightly coated it with flour, then seasoned them with salt and pepper. I placed them in a pot in which I'd already heated some canola oil. I seared them until they were a dark, rich, brown color, and then removed them from the pot so I could drain out the remaining oil:

I left the nice crusty bits on the bottom, then added the vegetables from the marinade. I cooked this over medium heat, all the while scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan and allowing the moisture from the vegetables to evaporate -- in all, a 3-minute process.

Next, I added the clarified marinating liquid to the pot, stirred it over medium heat, and reduced it until most of the liquid was gone:

Next, I added heated veal stock and chicken stock to the pot, then added the oxtails:

I covered the pot with a parchment lid, brought it all up to a simmer, then put it in a 325-degree oven for 4 hours to braise. When it was done braising, I removed the oxtails from the liquid and strained the liquid through a sieve, then reduced it to about 1.5 cups of liquid:

At this point, the meat was supposed to be so tender, it should fall right off the bone. I am here to tell you: it. did. not. It held onto the bone for dear life, despite the fact that when I pulled one out at the four-hour mark to check it, it seemed as if it was ready and would indeed fall right off the bone. Ten minutes out of the pot? Not letting go. Oh, and do you know how sharp and pointy oxtail bone is? Do you know what it feels like to scrape and slice your fingers and knuckles as you try to work with it? I felt completely inept and contemplated just chucking it all in the garbage. But I didn't. I pulled and scraped and cut and shredded the required 2 cups of meat from those bones, all while the liquid was reducing. I then added the meat to the reduced sauce, and it was at this time that I remembered my lack of salsify for the next step.

So, salsify. The root that tastes a little oyster-y and has the texture of an artichoke heart when it's cooked. Back in the day, I used to think it was pronounced "salse-ih-fi" with a long "i" (eye) sound. Like somehow by adding salsa to your taco, you were gonna salsify it. Oh wait -- I didn't really think that's what "salsify" meant -- it's just the way I thought it was pronounced. Then, I overheard a well respected chef pronounce it as "salse-ih-fee" and did some digging, and by gum, that's how you really pronounce it. Didn't matter, because when I called every market and farm stand in town to try and find it, no one knew what the hell I was talking about. I even tried pronouncing it the old way. Then, I described it. It's like a long, thin parsnip -- sometimes it's white, sometimes it's black. Here's what it looks like, in case you ever need to find it:

One of the produce guys at Whole Foods tried to sell me horseradish, claiming it was salsify. Upon my insistence that I was not born yesterday and knew what horseradish looked like, he then capitulated and instead insisted they could be used interchangeably because they were, as he put it, "the very same thing, miss." It was all I could do to not throw it at him, make him taste it, double over from the coughing fit that would ensue upon biting into raw horseradish and say, "Good DAY, sir. I said GOOD DAY!" and stomp off. But I did not. No, I was mature and said I'd look elsehwere, which I did, to no avail.

So, I had to skip the whole salsify step for this dish. Is the absence of salsify the reason this was such a disappointment? Maybe. But I'm not going to make it again to find out. I like my knuckles now that they've healed and I really don't need to shred my fingers again with more oxtail nonsense, salsify be damned. Or something.

Aaaaaaaanyway, the last two steps were to do the mushrooms and the monkfish. The mushrooms were easy. I removed the stems from and cut the cèpes (more commonly known as porcini mushrooms) into slices that were about a quarter-inch thick. I put them in a pan with a little oil and some thyme and heated them until they were browned:

I added some brunoise, tomato diamonds, and a few drops of white wine vinegar to the oxtail meat and sauce and kept that warm on the burner. Then, I did the monkfish.

I bought my monkfish already cut into the 8 small medallions I needed, and boy am I glad I did, because have you ever seen a whole monkfish? Oh, you haven't? Well, they're legendary in the looks department, so here you go:

Oh, whoopsie-daisy. How'd that photo get in here?

Okay, for reals, here's a monkfish:

Heh. Sorry 'bout that.

Okay. Monkfish time:

Not so bad once you've seen those first two, huh?

I seasoned my little monkfish medallions with salt and pepper and cooked them on both sides in a little canola oil for about 3 minutes per side. I added a little butter and some parsley at the end of the cooking process and basted the fish with it for a few seconds.

To plate, I started with the oxtail meat in sauce, added the monkfish, then topped it with the mushrooms:

It looks pretty, but it was pretty nondescript in the taste department. I'm not a huge fan of monkfish. I think it's really bland and not a fishy-enough texture for me. Some people refer to monkfish as "poor man's lobster" -- which I sort of get, but in this case, it's more like it was a "waste of my time." The oxtail was stringy and not very good, either. The mushrooms were the only thing I liked, and I'm bummed I didn't have the salsify to see how that might've played on the plate.

I don't really know what else to say here. Spay and neuter your pets? Return your tray tables to their upright and locked positions? Goodnight, Gracie?

I know -- how about a big, fat congratulations to the team behind Ratatouille for their Oscar win Sunday night! As you may know, Thomas Keller was the lead culinary consultant, and if you've seen the movie, you'll see his touches throughout. So, congrats Ratatouille team. I sure as hell hope they didn't serve you monkfish and oxtail at Prince's Oscar after-party... which I'm sure you went to, because that would actually be hilarious and awesome all at the same time. Thomas Keller. Prince. That's a photo-op I need to see and that would certainly cheer me up outta this surf and turf funk.

Up Next: "Tongue in Cheek" -- Braised Beef Cheeks and Veal Tongue with Baby Leeks and Horseradish Cream

Oxtails from Union Meat at Eastern Market
Monkfish from BlackSalt
Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon
Produce and aromatics from Whole Foods

Music to Cook By: The Aluminum Group; Little Happyness. I first heard these guys when I was in LA and they got some airplay on KCRW. I love the song "Milligram of Happiness" -- it's got this sort of 60s and 70s pop feel with a modern twist. I love the sound of their voices, and not only is this album great kitchen music, I love driving to it, as well. And really, who couldn't love a group that named itself after a furniture line? But really, how ironic that an album with the word "Happy" in its title was playing while I was making one of the most disappointing dishes from this book? It's like totally like rain on your wedding day or a free ride when you've already paid, or maybe the good advice that you just didn't take, except NOT.

Read my previous post: Per Se, Encore


Tempered Woman said...

I can't believe I just read an entire write-up for monkfish and oxtail (both of which I won't eat). I know you didn't wanna but I'm really glad you did. You are freakin hysterical! Thanks for the great laughs this morning cause I really needed them. I wish I was an editor for a food magazine so I could hire you to write for me all the time.

Brad McDonald said...

While the dark side of Carol is funny I was concerned until I read Music to Cook by and realized that you were probably just disappointed in the dish. Who want to tear up their fingers and end up with something that was just blah.

In any event cheer up!

Anonymous said...

Don't feel too bad. You learn as much from your failures as from your successes. This time you may have learned that you never have to cook this dish again and your life will still be full of joy and purpose. Besides, it was just as entertaining for us to read. Love the monkfish photos.

michael, claudia and sierra said...

ok everyone?
hi, ummm... gather round ok?
group hug for carol!!!
not too tight - but with feeling

mwah mwah

and fuck a buncha monktailed crapola...

onwards and upwards!

Unknown said...

Looks great to me. I think you on your worst day beat my bachelor food self eating over the kitchen sink on my best day :) If you ever have a guest list spot open for a dedicated reader, I'm a fellow Marylander and live right down the road from BlackSalt! :)

Anonymous said...


The one dish I've been waiting for you to cook and you failed. Of the 5 or 6 dishes I've cooked out of the book so far, it's been encouraging to me to read that we have had the same experience in each( I thought the Duck Roulade came out a little too rare as well, I too have seen a few Salsi-wha? faces, and they make those parchment lids look soooo easy don't they) But this was the first dish I made from the book and it was amazing the first and 2nd times I made it.

For me, this dish is great. The meat is tender and rich, the sauce rocks and the Monkfish (sure aint lobster that's for sure) takes on the flavors of the dish and adds the contrast in texture you're looking for with a surf and turf.

I'm really suprised you had problems with this one, and I had to stand up for it as being a great plate of food.

Also those oxtails looked very lean in the pictures, just a guess from what I see here, but if they were too lean the lack of fat may have hurt the outcome.

amber said...

sorry for the crappy go-round with this one :( but if it makes you feel any better, it sure does look pretty.

no, that doesn't help? well, then at least you never have to make it again. yay?

still haven't seen ratatouille, but my co-worker said that after reading 'kitchen confidential' she was impressed at how real all the cooking/chef scenes were. and now it all makes sense :)

tammy said...

You're feisty when you're angry! Not that I want you to fail, but, you know what I mean...

Unknown said...

I totally feel you -- spending this much time on a dish that is just OK is a truly craptacular experience. I recently made the oxtails, but served the shredded meat over the carnaroli risotto and is was very, very tasty.

Love this blog -- keep up the great work!

Michelle said...

Good God! Who are those Monk fish?

Anonymous said...

I think I've seen the top monk fish with her head shaved, in the play W;t.

Ox tails should not have bones with sharp edges. If you are getting ox-tails with sharp edges your butcher is cutting them up on a band saw and not cutting them with a knife at the joint. When I was a kid ox-tails were something we ate with our fingers and cheap.

But with fish?

Joseph D'Antoni said...

Funny that you just made this, I brasied oxtails and served them with Salsify Monday night. (Salsify courtesy of Iovine's product in the Reading Terminal Market--the only place I've ever actually seen salsify).

But in general the oxtails were dissapointing (i didn't use the TK method) for the same effort I'd rather do shortribs.

sygyzy said...

For some reason your monkfish medallions look battered.

Anonymous said...

You certainly made lemonade out of lemons. I feel your pain..I know how exciting it can be to make a dish and "oh boy internet!!!! look at my mad cooking skillz!!" And. it. stinks.
After some teeth gnashing and hair pulling, I dust myself off and try again.
It's the journey, dontcha know. Thanks for sharing.

pdxblogmommy said...

1. I don't think you "failed", the dish failed YOU. Nuff said.
2. Nice Willy Wonka reference there.
3. LOVE the Grimace vomit.
4. We have Sal-si-fee in PORTLAND and also plenty of people who know what it is. Why not just move already??

Anonymous said...

I'm with spooneroonie on this one. There is that old line about a woman being beautiful when she is angry. Well, you are funnier when you are frustrated. Grimace! that crazy cat lady! Salsify - to add salsa! En fuego.

Some of us also may be rooting for your stubborness to make you re-visit the dishes that missed and extend the life of this project.

Oh, and on the last post. A couple months ago I went to a reading by the former server at Per Se who wrote a memoir of her time there. She said that when they get names off the reservation list they do some background research. When I was reading the post I was waiting for the moment at the end where someone slips you tips on Agnolotti. Well, maybe when you visit the mothership.

Unknown said...

Who knew a picture of Grimace could make me laugh for ten minutes, especially when it's accompanied by a purple sauce?

Denise said...

Sorry bout your boyfriend, Carol! Well, this leaves him more time to enjoy your amazing cooking, and who'd want to be First Lady anyway, unless Thomas Keller could be the White House chef!! :-D

Carol Blymire said...

TemperedWoman: Me too, re: the magazine thing. :)

Jason: Thanks for kicking me when I'm down. Way to be a team player. KIDDING. I'm glad your version of it turned out well -- I really am. I just think I had an off day. Where'd ya get your salsify?

Michelle: The role of the monkfish was played by Joan Van Ark and Jocelyn Wildenstein.

Sygyzy: They do look battered, but they're not. The lighting in the kitchen is odd and the fish's uneven texture had odd shadowing on it in the photo.

PDX: Let's compromise and both move to NY, instead. Deal?

RT: I'm going to beg for agnolotti instructions when I get to the mothership.

Denise: I KNOW. I'm wearing a black armband today.

The Italian Dish said...

Carol: Oh, you are so deliciously bad! Posting those pictures of the "monkfish"! I loved it. And we all know not every recipe is a home run - thanks for posting anyway!

Anonymous said...

Dang, monkfish (all variations) are UGLY! I've lost my appetitie for dinner!

Sorry about the dish. I love oxtail, mainly in soup. I always take them out and remove the meat - I do leave the little ones intact so hubs can do his caveman thing. (Is there such thing as LEAN oxtail?!)

Monkfish and oxtail doesn't sound good to me together though.

Better luck with your next dish!

Anonymous said...

So funny! I get so scared when I see the "panther" lady's face. The first time I saw her was in a newspaper article about her divorce and they say that was actually a "good" picture of her! The monkfish really looks kinda cute in comparison!
BTW- great job on the recipe too! I always love how you have so many step-by-step photographs.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Nice cooking lady:

I saw your link at "Cook, eat, Fret".

My mom used to make oxtails (with 11 kids in the family we probably would've eaten hooves and horns, too. Hers were always tender, but too greazzzy for me.

Is there a chance yours did not have enough collagen (that seems unlikely). I've never eaten monkfish. When I am at the beach in Maine or NH, I'll get a lobster. Monkfish costs too much for what it is, imo.

I will have to scan some of your other posts. Nice work.



Anonymous said...

My guess=Cook the oxtail's a little longer to break down the meat and or the oxtail was just bad product.

Anonymous said...

I don't need to repeat any of what has been posted already-- nice writing.

But, those look like shiitake not porcini mushrooms. Are they?

Anonymous said...

Gee, Carol, it's hard to think what went wrong here -- everything looks so good!

The two most crucial points I can think of have already been noted by other commenters, but I'd repeat them:

1) oxtails emphatically should not have very sharp edges; this means they were not cut properly

2) if the meat's not falling off the bone, braise it another hour -- it can't hurt anything, since you have to reduce the liquid in the end anyway

A few other remarks, though:

A) Oxtails do not come from cows. I would be very nervous about a butcher who sells cow tails as oxtails and doesn't know how to cut them anyway. Cow meat is, in general, much less flavorful; it can also have some texture issues, but that shouldn't matter here. If you should try another oxtail dish, buy from a different butcher.

B) Parchment covers are easy, actually. Fold a rough square of parchment in half, then quarter, then keep folding into a wedge, with the point staying in the middle of the paper and getting narrower and narrower. Now hold the thin wedge over your pot, with the point in the middle, and mark with your finger where the edge is. Now cut across at that point and unfold your semi-perfect circle.

C) This dish depends (I haven't done it yet, but from the description and Keller's recipe) very heavily on the meat having a strong flavor, and all the little tricks he uses are aimed to intensify that. Looks to me as though your butcher screwed you over by providing a product that couldn't give you the flavor you wanted. Go back to Max's Kosher Butcher, and the hell with these idiots.

Chin up, you can't win 'em all. And at least it was only Grimace's vomit....

Natty said...

I need to have my husband read this-- you've captured exactly how I feel when my cooking doesn't work out the way I thought it would. Only my version has a lot more swearing.

Anonymous said...

i'm so far behind, but had to mention two things:

a) it looks great. i would've eaten it and not complained hardly at all.

b) hard to mention in light of the salsify fiasco, but those look like shiitake. as hard as fresh porcini are to get -- at least in these here parts -- i was expecting the acquisition of those to be the next fiasco in this tale.

Tartine said...

I am very new to your blog. I love it! And I love your Lebowski reference. You are a woman after my own heart.