This recipe comes from the James Beard (with Sam Aaron) cookbook, How to Eat Better for Less Money. Originally published in 1954, I purchased the 1970 reprint during my "lean" college years. It has been a constant resource since then. Many of my family's favorite recipes come from these pages. Plus "eating better for less money" is as relevant today as it was in 1954 or 1974. —Fran
Have the butcher disjoint the oxtails - that is, cut them through at the joints, not hack them into pieces. [Just love this instruction ! Today precut oxtails are available in most large supermarkets.]
Preheat oven to 450. Let oxtails come to room temperature, then season each one well with salt [I use Kosher salt] and freshly ground black pepper. Dredge each oxtail thoroughly in flour and pat off any excess. Being careful not to crowd them, place oxtails in a flat baking dish [I use a roaster with handles]. Roast at 450 for 30 minutes. [Beard says to shake the pan from time to time and baste the meat with its own juices. I only sometimes shake the pan and never baste. Seems to work for me.]
Remove pan from oven and pour off fat. [I usually don't find it necessary to pour off fat. If I need to, however, I remove the oxtails to a platter first, then pour off excess fat being careful to leave all the browned, yummy bits of fond behind. Then I return the oxtails to the roaster.]
Move oxtails close together in the roaster. Carefully warm the brandy in a large metal soup ladle. Pour warmed brandy over oxtails and flame. When flame extinguishes itself, transfer oxtails to a deep casserole and add the carrots, onion, thyme, parsley, bay leaf and enough water and broth or water and wine to cover. [I tend to use a no/low-salt beef broth rather than the wine. And if I've been really organized and have homemade broth/stock - it really does taste the best. If using fresh thyme, increase the amount to 1 tablespoon. Dried thyme is quite successful in this dish, however.]
Lower oven heat to 350. Braise oxtails, covered, for 3 hours. [I usually stir them around at this point.] Reduce heat to 250 and cook, covered, for 3 hours more. [Often the oxtails are "falling off the bone" wonderful after the first three hours. If I cook them further, I usually check them at 4 hours and they are usually ready.]
Serve in deep bowls with plenty of rich broth. Beard says, "Boiled potatoes and braised cabbage sprinkled with poppy seeds go well with the ragout." I agree. But I also like these served with goat cheese infused polenta. The goat cheese seems to cut the unctuousness of the oxtails.
Beard also notes, "The ragout is even better if made the day before, cooled, skimmed of fat and reheated." Agreed.
I use this basic technique/recipe for braised short ribs, too. The mess of browning stovetop is avoided, the brandy lends depth to the braise, and the short ribs, like the oxtails, never fail to be meltingly delicious.