A Whale Of An Oxtail
When our Dining Out crew was working on our cover story for this week, we came across a “nomalicious” oxtail soup at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue’s ocean-front location at Ala Moana Beach Park. Ever since, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about oxtail.
You probably already have a favorite spot for local-style oxtail soup — whether you like it with peanuts or chili peppers, heavy on the grated ginger, light on the mustard greens and Chinese parsley, or some variation on all of the above. That’s why I am interested in finding even more ways to savor oxtail this week, as it’s becoming increasingly common to see this locals-approved cut of meat show up in ramen, pho or other menu items around town.
Colloquially, we refer to the ingredient as oxtail, but it’s interesting to note that in today’s day and age, this piece of meat usually comes from the tail of regular cattle. And when slow cooked or simmered, its bony, gelatin-rich qualities lend depth and velvetiness to all the broths and sauces it graces.
So without further ado, let’s taste some entrees that are strong as an oxtail!
OLD FAVE GETS A NEW TWIST
When Hawaii’s patrons are seeking out an array of fine Chinese fare, be it dim sum and Hong Kong favorites or zesty Szechuan dishes, they head to The Mandalay on Alakea Street. Three months ago, when the eatery decided to introduce a new menu item, the kitchen turned to an ingredient they knew would go over well with their mostly kamaaina clientele base.
“Oxtail is a favorite, and locals love it, but we di dn’t want to make another oxtail soup,” says Larry Chan, who runs the restaurant with his wife Linda. “We wanted to try something different.”
The resulting dish their chef created is Black Pepper Oxtail with Wine Sauce ($18.95 per order). Served in a casserole dish, the boldly flavored beef simmers in a sea of luxurious juices from the meat, spiced to perfection. “It’s very flavorful and it smells really good, too,” describes Chan.
While the kitchen team wasn’t willing to divulge the secret recipe, they did express that wine is a key ingredient in the cooking process because it brings out the flavor of the oxtail.
It’s no surprise that the Chans have another successful dish on their hands, as the couple has been involved in the restaurant industry for about 25 years. Prior to opening The Mandalay, the duo ran up to four restaurants at a time, including the former Eastern Garden. They poured all their knowledge and experience into The Mandalay, which has been operating successfully since 2006.
1055 Alakea St., Downtown
TRY THIS VERSION OF OXTAIL SOUP
Most of us are familiar with Chinese-inspired oxtail soup, but Thailand is home to its own take on the dish, one that celebrity chef Chai Chaowasaree grew up enjoying.
At his restaurant, Chef Chai at Pacifica Honolulu, he shares his family recipe with patrons, many of whom — dare I say — like it better than the local version of the soup.
“A lot of people say that it’s the best oxtail soup they’ve ever had,” explains Chaowasaree. “It’s become one of the main draws of the restaurant.”
In Oxtail a la Chai ($15 happy hour, $29 regular), the succulent meat is slow-braised, rendering it fall-off-the-bone tender. “The one thing about oxtail is that even though it’s the tail, if you cook it properly, it’s nice, moist and tender,” he explains. “And I love the texture and intense flavor of oxtail, it’s very unique.”
Chaowasaree says that any excess fat is trimmed from the oxtail before cooking, so the finished soup is healthier than many of its counterparts. Adding to the healthful benefits of the dish are the lemon grass, galangal (Thai ginger), garlic and Chinese celery infused into the broth.
While the soup is regularly priced at $29, it is available for $15 during happy hour (4-6 p.m. and again at 9-11 nightly). It’s just one of many Asian-inspired contemporary dishes featured on Chef Chai’s menu, which highlights health-conscious cuisine prepared without butter. Many patrons also take advantage of the early bird special, a four-course dinner priced at only $40 for those seated before 5 p.m.
1009 Kapiolani Blvd., Honolulu