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A slow braise is something to be anticipated and savored — just ask chef Justin Smillie.

You braisin’? You should be. The cold weather is in full swing, and NYC chef Justin Smillie’s new cookbook, Slow Fires, is not unlike a long poem (with recipes) about that special, magical moment when a tough, meaty, collagen-bound piece of meat gives up its treasured secret and yields willingly to nothing more than the tines of a fork. We’re talking about slow cooking, folks — oxtails most definitely included. You’ll need a Dutch oven and a thing for delayed gratification. 

I can think of no better example than oxtails or shanks to demonstrate the virtues of traditional slow braising. Inexpensive, with tons of connective tissue, these cuts must be braised to reveal their beautiful character. Here, burnt-onion dashi is the primary liquid. It’s mineral and light, a balance to the red wine, and the collagen-rich cut will make it viscous and lush.

Lavish time and attention on each step of this recipe and you will get a delicious tutorial on the basics of braising. Really brown the meat; thoroughly melt the vegetables; scrape up all the fond as you go. When you add the wine and vinegar, let it steam, sizzle, and simmer off, so it just streaks the pan’s base and cooks into the soffritto. With each step you are building baseline flavor and understanding of the technique.

As the braise simmers, baste the meat and turn the pan until the oxtails hit their tender sweet spot. Then take a deep breath. That scent is part of the reward.

A quick note if you are buying oxtails: Ask your butcher to cut pieces from the tail’s center. You want plump cuts, or this rags-to-riches transformation won’t impress.

Reprinted with permission from Slow Fires