Medieval Oxtail Soup
“This evening they had supped on oxtail soup, summer greens tossed with pecans, grapes, red fennel, and crmbled cheese, hot crab pie, spiced squash, and quails drowned in butter. Each dish had come with its own wine. Lord Janos allowed that he had never eaten half so well.” (A Clash of Kings)
Modern Oxtail Soup
Rich and savory, this is the medieval-soup version of brisket. The recipe is different from other oxtail soups in that it doesn’t have New World tomato in it, so it lacks that distinctive acidic tang. The broth is very savory and beefy with a bite from all the spices, while the meat is tender from long boiling. It is delicious with a slice of buttered bread and a mug of ale.
This modern twist, an oxtail and Gruyère ravioli in a clarified oxtail stock, is elegant and fantastic. The cheese melts into the oxtail, adding just a slight bite to the flavorful meat. The stock, though similar to that in the medieval recipe, has a more intense flavor, due to the additional simmering time, and is simply beautiful in presentation.
The best part about these recipes is you don’t have to choose- simply use leftovers from the medieval recipe to cook the modern!
Medieval Oxtail Soup Recipe
Prep: 15 minutes Cooking: 4 hours
Beef y-Stywyd. Take fayre beef of þe rybbys of þe fore quarterys, an smyte in fayre pecys, an wasche þe beef in-to a fayre potte; þan take þe water þat þe beef was soþin yn, an strayne it þorw a straynowr, an sethe þe same water and beef in a potte, an let hem boyle to-gederys; þan take canel, clowes, maces, graynys of parise, quibibes, and oynons y-mynced, perceli, an sawge, an caste þer-to, an let hem boyle to-gederys; an þan take a lof of brede, an stepe it with brothe an venegre, an þan draw it þorw a straynoure, and let it be stylle; an whan it is nere y-now, caste þe lycour þer-to, but nowt to moche, an þan let boyle onys, an cast safroun þer-to a quantyte; þan take salt an venegre, and cast þer-to, an loke þat it be poynaunt y-now, & serue forth. —Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books
- 1 large oxtail, cut in chunks by your butcher (about 2 lb.)
- Poudre Forte (1/4 tsp. each ground cinnamon, cloves, mace, grains of paradise, and cubeb/black pepper)
- 1 minced onion
- 2 sprigs each fresh parsley and sage
- ~ 4 pints of water
- 2 slices of toasted bread
- 1 cup vinegar
- pinch of saffron
- salt to taste
Place the meat in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then take cinnamon, cloves, mace, grains of paradise, cubebs, and minced onions, parsley, and sage, and add them to the pot. Let it all boil, then turn down and allow to simmer until the meat is falling off the bone, about 4 hours. [allow to cool, then take meat off the bones] Take the toast and soak it in vinegar, then press it through a strainer. This is the thickening agent, something like a primitive roux. Add the bread mush to the pot of meat, but not too much. Let it boil once, then add a pinch of saffron. Season with salt and vinegar, and serve.
Modern Oxtail Soup Recipe
Prep: 10 minutes Cooking: 4½ hours Ravioli: 30 minutes
For the Broth:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 oxtail, cut into chunks by the butcher, about pounds
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 turnip, quartered
- 1 parsnip
For the Ravioli Dough:
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon milk
For the Filling:
- About 1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 1 egg, beaten
For Clarifying the Stock (optional):
- 3 egg whites
Melt the butter in a large stockpot. Sear the oxtail on each side until browned. Add the onion, turnip, and parsnip to the pot and cover with water. Simmer until the meat falls off the bones, about 4 hours, adding additional water if necessary.
Meanwhile, form the flour into a nest on a countertop or wooden cutting board. Drop in the egg yolks, eggs, olive oil, and milk. Stir the ingredients in the middle of the nest, gradually pushing in flour from the top of the mound. Once the dough has enough flour in it to be manageable, form it into a ball and set it aside. Clear the work space of extra flour and dough bits. Lightly dust the surface with flour and begin kneading the pasta. If you have a pasta machine, you can run the dough through it several times at this point in lieu of kneading. To knead by hand, use a forward-pushing movement only and work for about 10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and set it aside.
Strain the soup stock into a second pot and allow it to cool to room temperature. Chill the oxtail meat and bones in the fridge until they are cool enough for you to handle them. Strip the bones of any meat still attached and finely chop it. Add Gruyère to the meat in a one-to-one ratio and mix. The amount of meat will vary depending on the cut and cooking style. Simply match the meat volume with that of the grated cheese, and season with salt and pepper.
Roll out the pasta dough as thin as possible and place acorn-sized balls of the meat and cheese mixture about 2 inches apart on one half of the sheet of dough. Using your fingers or a brush, apply the beaten egg to the pasta around the meat. Fold the dough over the meat, and press it firmly together to enclose the filling. Using the cookie cutter of your choice or just a sharp knife, cut out the ravioli into your preferred shape.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and drop the pasta in, taking care not to overcrowd the pot; remove each ravioli as it floats to the top.
Your stock should be room temperature now. If you want to clarify it (this is optional, but makes for a beautiful, clear broth), beat the egg whites until they are foamy. Stir them into the stock and return to a medium heat. As the whites begin to congeal and float to the top of the stock, be sure to cut a 1 inch hole in the middle for steam and heat to escape. Allow the stock to simmer for 15 minutes, then strain it through a fine sieve. Add the ravioli and serve hot