A red wine lees oxtail for Chinese New Year

I have a new favorite oxtail recipe, and it’s one I literally threw together on the spot. For the second day of Chinese New Year, we had asked my in-laws to come over for lunch. I has originally wanted to roast up a big, beautiful prime rib (they love their steaks), however, I didn’t get my act together and by the time I went looking for my beef, the places I’d normally shop at were all closed. Fortunately, we had some lovely oxtail in the freezer. So that became the star of the show.

As many of you may have noticed, I’ve been recently hosting a new Channel News Asia television series called Vanishing Foods. In each episode, we visit a different place in Asia where certain communities are in danger of losing elements of their food cultures. On one of our last overseas shoots, we visited the town in Fujian provence in Southern China that is responsible for some 80% of the world’s production of red yeast rice. We went there, after wrapping up a full episode in Hunan province, to learn more about red yeast rice, which is actually being featured in one of our two Singapore episodes. Anyway, while there, we picked up not just some of the red yeast rice (which I’d need to use to prepare the dishes for that episode) but also a pretty large amount of red yeast rice wine lees.

Among the people of Fujian, the most popular way of using red yeast rice is to make rice wine. They ferment glutinous rice, wine starter, and the red yeast rice in water to create this wine. When ready, the liquid is strained away. The lees is the thick, deep red paste that is left behind. This is a great product to cook with and imparts a subtle, sweet, earthy flavour to dishes. But even more interestingly, it both tenderises proteins as well as softens powerful (and sometimes not-so-pleasant) aromas. It also colors any dish it’s used in red (or sometimes pink).

I wanted to serve an oxtail dish that celebrates Chinese New Year and since red is an auspicious color for our lunar new year’s festivities, I thought that using the lees would be really interesting. I marinated my oxtail in the lees, along with some kecap manis, Chinese rice wine, fish sauce, honey, sesame oil, and a little five spice.

The resulting oxtail was really beautiful. The meat was really soft and tender, and full of flavour. My in-laws were really pleased. They commented that they loved that the sauce was light but very tasty. They said that too often western oxtail braises result in sauces that are too rich and, after a few bites, too cloying. This version, I agreed, was full of flavour but didn’t feel sticky or heavy. You didn’t feel full after your first portion. In fact, both my father-in-law and I had seconds.

I liked how the oxtail had a balance of flavours — sweet and salty, and even the slightest hint of sour too. It also had a nice depth, most likely the result of the red wine lees. It was also an interesting combination of familiar flavours… Somewhat Asian but also somewhat Western. And all things delicious. This quickly thrown-together recipe is something that I’m definitely making again, for myself and for friends. My wife suggested that I’d better record the recipe down so that I’d be able to recreate it accurately in the future, hence this post.

I had served the (deboned) oxtail with some super soft and creamy polenta. I love polenta when it’s slow-cooked with a lot of liquid. It takes on a beautiful soft silkiness that just works so perfectly with certain dishes. The ratios and timing are pretty easy to remember. But you need to set aside a lot of time and have patience. 500ml of stock to every 33g of polenta. Get the stock boiling, then slowly pour in the polenta. Lower the heat so the liquid is just simmering and stir continuously for about 50 minutes. When the polenta is a nice soft porridge-like texture, add in 80ml of cream and 40g of grated parmesan. Adjust seasoning to taste and voila! Perfect soft, delicious polenta.


About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!