I am one of the most kitchen challenged people you will ever meet, but I'm making some progress. Some of my dishes are edible, and some are actually delicious. My kitchen, which used to frighten me more than facing a bear in the forest, has become a place of fun and adventure, something like a child's chemistry set. Not only did I like the soup that I made, but my test subject, who is still my friend, pronounced it delicious. Let me tell you about my latest kitchen adventure.
After watching cooking videos, which I love to do, I came up with this recipe of sorts. It works best if you start the soup at least 12 hours before you plan to eat it. I started my soup around 6 P.M., cooked it for about three hours, then put it in the fridge overnight and put it in the crock pot the next morning. It cooked all day, and when it was done, the meat fell off of the bone.
First let's talk about mise en place, a fancy French phrase that means to get everything together before you start cooking. I find the little ramekins (small pudding cups) very handy for holding ingredients on the ready. The amounts of the ingredients will vary, depending upon how much soup you want to make. I made about a quart of soup. If you have a crock pot or slow cooker, have it clean, super clean, and ready to use. You will want all your tools and ingredients ready and within easy reach of your stovetop. You will need a good knife (I used a chef's knife), tongs, a big spoon for stirring the pot, a ladle for serving the soup. a spatula, a frying pan and a soup pot. Also have a variety of small bowls, and a dinner plate or large bowl to hold the meat after you brown it.
Start by chopping an onion. Also chop celery and carrots if you have them. Place the chopped onion in a small bowl, and place the chopped celery and carrots in a separate bowl. If you have a garlic bulb, pull off one clove (two cloves if you really love garlic) and peel off all the "paper" outside. Cut the clove into two or three pieces and place them in a small bowl. If you don't have fresh garlic, get a jar of garlic powder and place about half a teaspoon of the garlic powder in a small bowl (a whole teaspoon if you really love garlic). Garlic salt is okay, but keep that in mind that you are adding more salt to the soup. You do not want the garlic to take over the soup. You want to be able to taste the meat and vegetables, as well as the broth. If you are making a huge pot of soup (I made about a quart), then you could double the amount of garlic for three or four quarts of soup.
Also have a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, a small can (about 4 to 6 ounces) of tomato sauce or diced tomatoes, and any vegetables that you want to add to your soup. (You can use ketchup instead of tomato sauce.) I like to use frozen peas and frozen green beans. Sometimes I also use frozen corn. If all you have is canned vegetables, strain out the liquid before you add them to the soup.
Chicken stock. I bought chicken stock at the grocery store. Beef stock was available, but it often has a funny flavor or aftertaste, so I use chicken stock.
Salt and black pepper should go without saying, but there I said it. I've found that freshly ground black pepper is 10 times better than the stuff in the shaker can. If you want a little heat in your soup, use dried red pepper flakes, or chop the fresh chili peppers of your choice. I used about half a teaspoon of red chili flakes.
You will need some cooking oil. I often prefer grapeseed oil because it doesn't smoke and burn when I cook on high heat, and it doesn't add any noticeable flavor to the food. However, I prefer corn oil for this dish because it adds a sort of sweet background note to the dish. You don't taste the corn oil specifically, but it does make a difference in the flavor of the soup.
Also have a stick of butter handy. You can use margarine if you wish, but I prefer the real thing.
Remember, the beef is the star of the show. I used oxtail, which is a piece of the tail. It's shaped like a hockey puck, that is a disk, with the bone in the center and the meat in a circle around the bone. Oxtail has some fat, but that's okay. You can cut out the fat if you wish, bur I don't bother. You can use any kind of beef that you want, but I like to get a cut that has the bone in it to make the broth richer and more nutritious. Short ribs are a good choice. Sirloin tips also work very well in soup, although they don't have any bone in them.
Vegetables of your choice
Salt and black pepper
Chili flakes or fresh chili pepper (optional)
Butter and cooking oil
Large spoon for stirring the pot
Ladle for serving the soup
Generously coat both sides of the beef with salt and pepper. You should let it sit for half an hour, but this step can be skipped.
Put your frying pan on medium heat. When the pan is hot, add about a tablespoon of oil to the pan. Swirl it around so the oil covers the whole bottom of the pan. You might need to add a little more oil, but don't overdo it. Set the pan back on the burner. Sear the beef (brown it) for two or three minutes on each side. Depending on the type and shape of the beef, use tongs and/or a spatula to turn it over in the frying pan. Put the meat aside on a clean plate or in a clean bowl.
You are not cooking the meat at this point. You are simply browning it to caramelize the surface for added flavor.
Now place the soup pot on the burner with low heat. when the pan is warm, add about two tablespoons of cooking oil and a couple pats of butter. When the butter is melted, toss in the chopped onion. You want to sweat the onion on low heat until it becomes translucent. You can even let the onion brown a little bit, but don't let it burn and turn black. Burnt onion does not taste good, in my opinion. Stir the onions occasionally to prevent burning and get them all cooked evenly. When they start to look a little see-through, toss in the carrots and celery if you have them. After a minute or so, add the chopped mushrooms if you are using them. I did not use mushrooms because I didn't have any. Stir the pot, and if you think it isn't cooking fast enough, you can turn up the heat a tiny bit. Do NOT use high heat. You want the carrots and celery to soften, and you want the water to steam out of the mushrooms. Then you can add the garlic. When you can smell the fragrance of the garlic, add the chicken broth. You want to stop the garlic from browning and turning bitter. It will be okay to let it simmer in the broth for as long as it takes.
Add your vegetables and stir the pot to get all those ingredients mixed.
Add your spices and sauces to taste.
At this point, you can continue cooking on the stovetop or pour the soup (carefully, it's hot!) into your crock pot or slow cooker. I keep it in the pot at this point because I plan to let it rest in the refrigerator overnight.
Carefully place the meat on top of everything. You do not want the meat to sink down into the vegetables at this point. If there is not enough liquid to cover the meat, you can add more stock if you have it, or you can use water. Have just enough liquid to cover the meat, and no more than that. You can always thin the soup after it's cooked, if you want a thinner broth.
Cover the pot and simmer on very low heat for at least three hours. If it's bedtime, it's best to put the soup in a sealed container (not the soup pot) in the refrigerator overnight. You can cook it again the next day. In fact, I find that the meat is more tender and the flavor is improved when I let the soup rest overnight and then cook it for several hours in the crock pot the next day.