Friday, June 5, 2009

Rabo Encendido (Cuban Oxtail Stew)

My Tata's recipe for this delicious stew is composed of oxtail braised in a rich tomato and red wine based sauce with carrots and potatoes. Yes, yes, you might think "Another Cuban tomato based dish? They are all the same!" Well WRONG! Slight changes really make a completely new dish.

Rabo Encendido literally translates to "Tail on Fire" but "Rabo" can also refer to in slang, a male's... well you know penis a.k.a. "dick" so it could also be translated to "Dick on Fire" ha ha. My family and I were laughing last night. We were like, "Mañana vamos a comer Moros, Rabo Encendido, y Platanos a Puñetazos." ha ha. It sounds so rude, "Moros" means "Moors" (as in Moroccans but we actually mean white rice steamed with black beans) and I explained the oxtail already and the "Platanos a Puñetazos" translates to "Punched Plantains." Word play is funny. I have no idea who came up with these names originally. So for dinner we're having some Moors, dick on fire, and some punched plantains! We ended up eating it with just white rice (I was tired to make any other sides that day, I went to sleep like at 2 AM and didn't get much of it.)

Any who, the name is deceiving because although "Rabo Encendido" means "Tail on Fire," this dish is not spicy at all. I have not seen any Cuban that makes this dish spicy. Cuban dishes traditionally (or at least what I have always had) are always absent of spiciness. They are not spicy, but hot from the smokey flavors of cumin, black pepper, and Spanish varieties of smoked paprika. Although having Tabasco sauce as a condiment on the table is not rare, in my household (having a Mexican mother), very spicy homemade sauces used as condiments are common things that are always available at the dinner table regardless of what meal we are having.

-4 1/2 lbs. oxtail
-1 large green bell pepper (minced)
-1 large onion (minced)
-1/2 head garlic (peeled, mashed to a paste via mortar & pestle or through a garlic press)
-1/2- 1 cup red wine
-3-4 ripe tomatoes (pureed or blended, or 2 cans of 8 oz. tomato sauce, or 1 can that is 15 oz.)
-2 large whole bay leaves
-1 teaspoonful ground cumin
-25-30 whole black peppercorns
-1 1/2- 3 cups water (depends how thin or thick you like it)
-salt to taste (at least 2 teaspoons)
-2-3 medium potatoes (peeled and cut in 4)
-5-7 carrots (about 1 pound, cut into 1-2 inch rounds)
-1/2 a bunch of parsley or cilantro (washed, stems removed, minced well)
-extra-virgin olive oil

(1) Cut some lines to make gap between the firm outer skin on the oxtail because it shrinks and you don't want it to constrict the meat in a weird way. Heat a large metal pot on very high heat WITHOUT ANY OIL until it's really hot. To see if it's hot, just sprinkle some water on it and if the water dances or instantly disappears, it's ready. Add the meat it on the fattiest side down. It should make a screaming like noise from the high heat, not a sizzle, but a thunder like sound. Do not move the meat! Let it brown and set it aside on a plate or bowl.
(2) The pan should have a blackish browning on the bottom. This is gonna lend the dish a great, strong, meaty, smokey flavor. The meat has also rendered plenty of fat so you don't need to add any oil yet unless you don't have enough. Now add the onions with bell peppers and sautee them over medium high for 7 minutes until they are see through and fragrant. At this point, add more olive oil if it is needed, then add garlic and sautee for an additional 3 minutes. Add wine and reduce the heat in half. Let it bubble and stir to deglaze the bottom. Add tomato, bay leaves, cumin, salt, and black peppercorns. Bring it to a boil and reduce 5-10 minutes stirring occasionally. Feel free to click on the picture of the pan with the oil to see how much oil it rendered.
(3) At this point, add the oxtail and stir, and then add water to barely cover meat (so you could still see the meat, should be about 2 cups to 3 cups of water, 16 oz.- 24 oz.). Swish it a bit and bring to a strong boil. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Towards the last 20- 30 minutes of cooking, add the potatoes and carrots. When the potatoes and carrots are tender, turn off the heat and sprinkle cilantro or parsley over.
It already looks mouthwatering! This picture came out really clear. Feel free to also enlarge this one. Yes, yes, I know I am a bad photographer, sorry I didn't take classes and am not educated in the subject of photography. I still think it looks damn good though!Goes great with white rice and can be served with moors, fried plantains or a salad, etc.

* My Tata makes a really delicious type of Chinese Cuban fusion dish that can be called "Rabo Encendido Estilo Chino Cubano," (Cuban Chinese Oxtail Stew). You can check out the post for it right here:

* Also I really enjoy this hot chili garlic paste that my mother makes. We have at the table as a condiment. I actually had some with this dish (I just enjoy the kick):


*I was sooooo tempted to add a tablespoon of "Hot Smoked Spanish Paprika from La Vera" (Pimienton Picante de la Vera) or some Sweet Smoked Spanish Paprika. Maybe next time I'll give it a try with this but I wanted it to be as traditional as possible.

(Heck! I ain't gonna go kill my own cow, grow my own vegetables, press my own olive oil, and cook it over a wood fire outdoors in a clay pot just so I could make this as old school as possible!)