May 6, 2011

My Julie Powell moment

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So... after a long search for the right ingredients, I finally got around to braising my oxtail.  After prepping the ingredients for a while - including my first experience of trimming the fat off the tail - everything was dumped into my not-so-new-but-never-been-used 28cm Le Creuset cocotte.

As the original motive behind cooking the dish was to use up my leftover wine, I decided to play around and dump most of my leftovers into the sauce pan to reduce down.  This included some 2001 Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Herb Lamb Vineyard, 1995 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection and finally some 1999 Mondavi Pinot Noir PNX.  Yes, I've mixed 3 different wines from 3 different vintages and 2 different varietals... and the wines have been sitting around from as far back as 6 months ago.  A chef friend jokingly referred to it as the "conundrum stew".

In the wee hours this morning, after about 3 hours in the oven, I pulled the cocotte out of the oven and opened the lid.  I was shocked at what I saw.

The liquids in the pot had disappeared.  The color of the oxtail was very, very dark - almost black - and the pieces looked dry.  It was BURNT!

Now... earlier in the evening I had been joking with a couple of friends about cooking this. Julie & Julia has been showing on HBO, and like Julie I was cooking my bœuf bourguignon at night.  I told my friends I wasn't going to burn my oxtail, because there was no way I was gonna fall asleep and overcook it.  Well... I didn't fall asleep and burned it anyway!

It wasn't a total disaster, fortunately... The oxtail was still edible, with all the flavors from red wine and herbs that this stew should have.  The pieces were just stuck to the bed of vegetables underneath, which were not quite charred.  I had under-seasoned the meat but in general it was still OK, not charred beyond hope as I had feared.

I later pointed to 2 main causes for my failure - the main culprit being that the oven had been set at the wrong temperature.  The dial on my oven had 8 markers, with "1" being 120°C and "8" being 275°C.  Now, a setting of "3" should have been used to cook at 160°C, but I had mistaken turned the dial to "4".  So I was cooking at the wrong temperature, for 3 hours.  No wonder the liquids were gone.

The other problem is that I was using my new, wide cocotte.  There was more surface area for the liquid to evaporate, and I hadn't account for that, either.

Oh well... It seems that I had failed in my challenge, but at least I know what went wrong. I'll get around to my next oxtail stew again, soon.

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