2009, or 4707 on the Chinese calendar, is the year of the Ox. Chinese months are reckoned by the lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. In China, people may take weeks of holiday from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year. Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. That's not really a good turnout is it? He announced that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality. Those born in ox years tend to be painters, engineers and architects. They are stable, fearless, obstinate, hard-working and friendly. President Barak Obama, Jack Nicholson, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney and Anthony Hopkins were all born in the year of the ox. So was Adolf Hitler (he was a painter, but not the friendliest of chaps). So in celebration of the year of the ox, let's eat one! Actually, in days of old, oxtails did come from oxen, but today they are simply the tails of beef cattle of both genders. CHINESE BRAISED OXTAIL STEW The prep and cook time for this is 5 hours, plus overnight marinating, so don't try to make this in a hurry! INGREDIENTS 5 to 6 pounds oxtails, cut into pieces, fat trimmed Kosher salt and ground black pepper 2 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil cup Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry 2 cups low-sodium beef or chicken stock 1/3 cup dark or regular soy sauce 1 tablespoons brown sugar 2 star anise, broken into pieces 2 whole cloves 4 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and bruised 3 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths, plus 2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal, for garnish 6 slices fresh ginger 4 garlic cloves, peeled 3-4 Thai chili peppers cut into 1/2-inch lengths 10 ounces fresh or dried whole shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, re-hydrated if dried 1 lime, zested and cut into small wedges Cooked jasmine rice, for serving. METHOD Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Season the oxtails with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, brown oxtail all over, removing each piece when done. Add oil as needed. When done browning, pour off extra fat from bottom of empty pot and set pot over high heat. Add wine and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. In a bowl, mix soy sauce and sugar with 2 cups stock and pour into pot. Add lemongrass, chili peppers, star anise, cloves, 2-inch pieces of scallions, ginger and garlic and bring to a boil. Turn off heat. Return oxtails to pot and add lime zest. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook 1 hours. Turn over pieces of oxtail, cover again and cook 1 hours more, or until oxtail is very tender. Remove oxtails from pot and strain sauce into a separate saucepan; discard contents of strainer. Transfer oxtail pieces back to ovenproof pot. Cover oxtails and sauce and refrigerate overnight. The next day, heat oven to 300 degrees; remove oxtails and sauce from refrigerator. Lift off any fat on surface of sauce and discard. Gently warm sauce until liquid, then pour over oxtails and stir in shiitake mushrooms. Cover with foil or a lid and bake 30 minutes. Uncover, stir and raise oven temperature to 400 degrees. Cook, uncovered, 15 minutes. Stir again and cook another 15 minutes, until hot and glazed thickly with sauce. Remove oxtails from oven and serve over rice. Sprinkle each serving with thin scallion slices and squeeze lime juice over oxtails. Makes 4 servings AND FINALLY... How to speak a few Chinese phrases... It's very dark in here: Wai So Dim? I thought you were on a diet: Wai Yu Mun Ching? This is a tow-away zone: No Pah King Our meeting is scheduled for next week: Wai Yu Kum Nao? Staying out of sight: Lei Ying Lo CHEF GILLIGAN War doesn't determine who is right, war determines who is left. (Ancient Chinese Proverb)
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