Thursday, December 3, 2009

Molly D.'s Kitchen in Seattle: An Introduction, and Oxtail Tacos

Introduction to My Kitchen

Hi from Seattle! I was all set to write my recipe for today, but as I thought about it I realized my cooking style needs a bit of an introduction:

I'm a lazy cook. I don’t want to plan my grocery shopping way ahead so that I can follow a recipe, and I don’t want to wash a mountain of bowls and measuring implements when I’m done.

I have a diverse background of food influences and I like trying new foods. My refrigerator door is full of Asian condiments, I have over 20 types of sweetener, and I’ll buy unfamiliar items because they sound interesting. But a home kitchen can only stock so much, and many items only stay fresh for so long, so I don’t count on having on hand standard recipe items like parsley and chicken breast.

I love understanding how techniques and ingredients work and what they do for a dish--what to put together and how to do it. In most cases I’m happier doing something on my own than following a recipe.

What this all adds up to is that my cooking tends to be thrown together based on what I have and what I feel like eating. Sometimes what I make works and sometimes it doesn’t, and I hope that as I develop my cooking sense, I’ll make fewer mistakes and more great meals! Today's post is one experiment that worked.

Oxtail Tacos

This afternoon I took the bus to Pike Place Market, one of my favorite places to find unexpected ingredients, and spent several hours wandering through the maze of little shops. By the time my feet hurt, my bag was full of chocolate bars, fresh corn tortillas, little bags of ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, a palmier, a jar of brined lemons, Turkish delight, ground chipotle and pasilla peppers, piloncillo, and a new-to-me hot sauce.

When I got home I was starving, and I figured I should start in on the huge stack of tortillas. I decided to combine them with the oxtails I’d been thawing in the fridge, and while I’d never cooked oxtails before, I had been told to go with braising, which was also perfect for chilly late fall. I know relatively little about Mexican cooking and even less about Latin America’s wide variety of peppers, so the pasilla was also an experiment. As usual, I put what I had on hand into the braising liquid. The combination and cooking method might not be authentic, but I chose flavors that would complement each other and taste good reduced into a rich, savory sauce.

Here’s the basic recipe; measurements are guesstimates.


3 oxtails
1 leek, cut into big chunks
2 or 3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 c rice vinegar
1 T ground pasilla pepper
1 T ground chipotle pepper
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. salt
Corn tortillas

  1. Stand oxtails on their ends in a medium-sized pot/saucepan with a lid and put all other ingredients except tortillas into the spaces around them.
  2. Pour water into pot until it reaches halfway up the sides of the oxtails.
  3. Place on heat and bring to boil, then turn heat down to low and cover pot.
  4. Come back every so often to make sure water hasn’t all boiled out and to turn the oxtails over once or twice during cooking.
  5. After two or three hours (this recipe involves minimal work but a lot of waiting), the meat should be tender enough that you can push it off the bones into the reduced liquid.
  6. Spoon chunks of meat into tortilla. Dip each bite into a vinegary, spicy hot sauce to cut the richness and add heat. So good.
 Serves two.

Notes on the Ingredients
  • Vinegar: There wasn’t enough flavor initially, so, inspired by adobo, I added the vinegar. I’m sure it would be fine with a different type of vinegar or without any at all, but I wanted tang without extra flavors, and rice vinegar was the mildest I had in my pantry.
  • Pepper: At first I used only the pasilla, but I found it too mild so I added the chipotle for heat and smokiness. I’m sure other pepper varieties or Latin-American-inspired spices would taste great, just different.
  • Leeks: I had leeks on hand, but onions would probably serve just as well.
  • Cinnamon: I had just bought the cinnamon and remembered it from other Mexican dishes so I thought I’d throw it in, though I can’t tell if the amount I used made any difference.
  • Corn tortillas: I love flour tortillas, but I suspect they’d be a bit bland and doughy next to the deeply flavored oxtails. Also, I understand that there are several ways to soften tortillas, and I went with steaming because it was convenient. We ate our tacos over the still-simmering pot of oxtails, so I softened each tortilla one at a time by laying it over the little tripod of oxtail bones and covering the pot. Depending how much steam there was, the tortilla was tender but not yet gummy after anywhere between 30 seconds and a couple minutes. (This is also why there are no photos of the finished, plated dish--there were no plates!)
Notes on the Final Result:
  • The oxtails turned out great. The braising liquid reduced into an incredibly rich and savory sauce for the chunks of meat.
  • The best surprise was that the leeks totally collapsed into the richness of the sauce. I’ve never been a huge fan of leeks, but each time I picked one out of the sauce it felt like a treat.
  • The fat and long simmer really tamed the heat of the pepper, so the final product was way less spicy than when I tasted it earlier in the cooking process.
  • This recipe serves two, but it doesn’t make a lot of meat. Because it’s so rich you only need a couple tablespoons of meat per tortilla.



  1. I will have to try making this - sounds great. I have been trying to locate pasilla pepper forever for another recipe . . .

  2. Looking forward to trying this one out. Have made similar tacos with Sasha which involve braised lamb and cojeta cheese. Still I really like the savory sauce that results from braised oxtail so this should be delicious.


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