Hetty McKinnon's Tomato and Egg Drop Noodle Soup

Hetty McKinnon's Tomato and Egg Drop Noodle Soup

Good morning! The sun came out today. Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. is president. Kamala Devi Harris is vice president. We stayed up late watching the various festivities and the virtual inaugural parade across America, which was far more moving than I expected. Our country, so broken in so many ways, still has so much energy and power, so much beauty and diversity. Don't underestimate what power that holds to the rest of the world. My Max, who grew up idolizing the United States, had his illusions broken over the past four years. His despair over the destruction of the country he had always believed in so much was almost painful to witness. To a child growing up in a divided Germany, Americans were saviors, protectors, benevolent and cool. America was always the land of possibility and enterprise and diversity and energy. Resplendent in its soft power, so often derided and misunderstood by the ill-intentioned or simply ignorant.

To be sure, that disillusionment was also necessary. To realize that the famed American experiment was meant for some but not for all, that its kindness and justice is extended to some but not to all, must be understood, grappled with by all of us. And fixed. Peeling back the layers to reveal the truth is both painful and necessary. It simply must be done.

But last night, as we watched Harris and Biden take their vows in the place so desecrated by violence and ugliness just weeks before, as we watched Amanda Gorman soar with her words, as we saw Majorettes and skateboarders, Native Americans and old ladies with walkers twirl and dance and kick, I could feel some of our trust being restored. It was good to be reminded all day long of just how colorful and beautiful our country can be. I kept breaking into tears and goosebumps.

Today, I feel hungover on nerves, jumpy and slightly frantic. It is so easy to sink into cynicism and dread, despite everything. After all, the road ahead looks hard and bumpy and there is so much to repair. I want to share this poem by Clint Smith that I came across this week that resonates so powerfully today:

When people say, “we have made it through worse before”
— Clint Smith

all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones
of those who did not make it, those who did not
survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who

did not live to watch the parade roll down the street.
I have grown accustomed to a lifetime of aphorisms
meant to assuage my fears, pithy sayings meant to

convey that everything ends up fine in the end. There is no
solace in rearranging language to make a different word
tell the same lie. Sometimes the moral arc of the universe

does not bend in a direction that will comfort us.
Sometimes it bends in ways we don’t expect & there are
people who fall off in the process. Please, dear reader,

do not say I am hopeless, I believe there is a better future
to fight for, I simply accept the possibility that I may not
live to see it. I have grown weary of telling myself lies

that I might one day begin to believe. We are not all left
standing after the war has ended. Some of us have
become ghosts by the time the dust has settled.

But I also want to revel in the moment. It's important to hold still and remember: This time a good man won over a malevolent one. A Jewish man and a Black man are Georgia's newest senators. We have our first female vice president who is both Black and Asian. Multiculturalism is being represented at the highest level and that matters.

It matters

Hetty McKinnon's Tomato and Egg Drop Noodle Soup Pot

And yes, I have another soup. I didn't plan this, I swear. If it is only just occurring to me now, at the age of 43, that January is a month for soups, then so be it.

A standard in Chinese kitchens, the recipe for this sweet-salty delight comes from Hetty McKinnon. I've tried a few variations on this soup recently, and this one has pleased me the most. You use the holy trinity of onion, garlic and ginger to enrich a simple base made of tomatoes and broth, then pour in beaten eggs to make long silky ribbons (in the photos, my eggs look rather a little curdled, because I mistakenly whisked them in). Sugar flavors the broth as well as soy sauce, and although I reduced the amount of sugar from the original, I wouldn't skip it.  A whorl of silky noodles completes the soup (I used pleasingly slippery rice noodles, though wheat ones are recommended). Then comes the best part, the dotting and drizzling on top of sauces and oils that form into little pools, and a pretty scattering of thinly sliced scallion.

The soup is a joy to eat, slurping with abandon, your mouth gently, sweetly afire. And somehow it feels quite fitting to pair this soup with this new day. It originated elsewhere, but is surely as at home in the United States as it is in Hong Kong.

Tomato and Egg Drop Noodle Soup
Print this recipe!
Serves 4
Note: The original recipe calls for 12 ounces of wheat noodles, which you cook in plenty of salted boiling water and divide among serving bowls, before topping with the finished soup. I used a slightly lesser amount of rice noodles, which I simply soaked in hot water and added to the pot just before serving.

1 small yellow or red onion
2 garlic cloves
1 1-inch piece ginger
1 scallion
8 ounces rice noodles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
4 large eggs
Salt to taste
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar or granulated sugar
Toasted sesame oil or chili oil
Soy sauce, for serving

  1. If using rice noodles, place them in a large bowl and cover with hot water, then set aside. If using wheat noodles, cook them in plenty of salted boiling water.

  2. While the noodles are soaking or cooking, prep the vegetables. Peel the onion, halve, and thinly slice into half-moons. Smash and peel the garlic cloves, then finely chop. Scrape skin from ginger with a knife or spoon. Thinly slice ginger; stack slices two at a time and cut into matchsticks. Line up matchsticks and cut crosswise into tiny squares. Finely chop the scallion; set aside for serving.

  3. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add onion and cook, stirring constantly, until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the diced tomatoes and broth or water to pot. Reduce heat to medium, cover pot with a lid, and cook broth until flavors have come together, 10–15 minutes.

  4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs together with a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of freshly ground white pepper in a large measuring glass or a small bowl with a lip.

  5. Uncover broth and stir in the sugar, then add another pinch of salt salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. The broth should be slightly sweet and a little tart.

  6. Increase heat to medium-high and bring broth to a boil. Very slowly trickle beaten eggs into soup (no need to stir). Cook eggs until set, 30–60 seconds from when you start pouring. Remove soup from heat. The egg doesn’t need to be totally cooked through—it will continue to cook in the residual heat of the broth. Place the rice noodles in the pot, stir well and serve immediately. (If using wheat noodles, rinse them under running water to loosen, then divide them among the four plates before topping with the soup.) Top each plate with toasted sesame oil or chili oil and soy sauce to taste, and sprinkle with reserved scallions.

Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuanese Chopped Celery with Beef

Blanched celery

My love affair with Fuchsia Dunlop and Chinese food continues unabated. My latest discovery: how to use up that pesky bunch of celery stalks you're forced to buy when you need but a single one. Ooh, how I hate the sight of those pale green stalks down in the crisper, how they fill me with regret and fury, taking up precious space, growing limp and moldy by the day, an affront to my self-regard as a resourceful, responsible cook! But no more. Thanks to Fuchsia, I've actually gone out and bought a bunch of celery on several occasions now, to use up in one fell swoop, no less. It's nothing short of a culinary miracle.

The dish has the lyrical name of "Send the Rice Down" in Chinese and the slightly more prosaic "chopped celery with beef" in English. But never mind the names - what you need to know is that this dish is one of the more addictive things to ever issue from my kitchen. Eating it is deeply pleasurable and almost painful because you cannot possibly eat as much of it as you would like to, lest you pop your trouser button after your third or fourth plate.

Stirfrying celery and beef

To make the dish, you need only two special ingredients (and special is a relative term depending on where you live): Sichuan chili bean paste, a reddish paste of fermented fava beans and chilis, and Chinkiang vinegar, a black, savory vinegar that you might recognize from your local dumpling shop. Buying both will only set you back a few dollars and will render you richer in the powerful-ingredient department. Besides, it can be fun to see what having these things in your home does to the people who live in it. Take, for example, my husband, who glances longingly, why almost lustfully, at the Chinkiang vinegar every time he passes it. If it were up to him, he'd be doing daily shots of the stuff.

Sichuanese chopped celery with ground beef

The rest of the work is a walk in the park. There is the slightly fussy step of blanching the celery, but after that tell your eating companions to hoof it to the table, because once you start cooking the beef and the chili-bean paste and ginger hits the pan and goes incredibly fragrant, you won't want to waste any more time with extraneous breaths when you could be eating (or shoveling) this fabulous meal into your mouth.

Oh, and one more thing: It should go without saying that this recipe is easily doubled. I think you'll need to do that.

Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuanese Chopped Celery with Beef
Adapted from Every Grain of Rice
Serves 2 as main with rice or 4 as part of a larger Chinese meal with other dishes

300 grams (11 ounces) celery
3 tablespoons cooking oil
100 grams (4 ounces) ground beef
1 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan chili bean paste
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
Light soy sauce to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar

1. Destring the celery, if necessary, and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips. Finely dice the strips. Bring some water to the boil and blanch the celery for 30 seconds. Drain well.

2. Heat the oil in a seasoned wok or pan over high heat. Add the ground beef and stir-fry until it is cooked and fragrant, stirring and pressing it to separate the strands. Add the chili bean paste and continue to stir until the oil has reddened. Add the ginger and stir-fry for a few seconds to release its fragrance, then add all the celery.

3. Continue to stir-fry until the celery is piping hot and well-combined. Season with a little soy sauce, if desired. Finally, stir in the vinegar and serve immediately.


Fuchsia Dunlop's Braised Chicken with Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Fuchsia dunlop's braised chicken

I have been on a cookbook-buying bender lately, even though we really don't have room for any more books and I already don't cook enough out of the books that I do own. There is just so much good stuff out right now. (I promise to do a post or two on new cookbooks and my cookbook collection in general soon. Don't you love knowing what other people's cookbook shelves are like? More fascinating than the bathroom cabinet!)

Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice is my latest baby, one I'd had on my wishlist since it was first announced. I own every one of her books and adore them all (even though I have yet to cook from any of them...until now). In fact, Fuchsia could take to writing cereal box copy and I'd probably buy every last thing her words adorned. I was thinking about it the other night and realized that, in my opinion, Fuchsia's the best living food writer out there these days. She makes everything she writes about - stinky tofu! cooking school in Sichuan province! chewy chicken cartilage! - utterly captivating.

Every Grain of Rice is Fuchsia's most recent book and it focuses on simple Chinese home cooking, with recipes sourced mostly from the south of the country. It's vegetable-heavy and beautifully photographed and, in short, will have you keeping your local Asian grocer in business as you keep trotting back for more ingredients, like black vinegar and dark soy sauce and dried shiitake mushrooms and chili-bean paste. (Actually, none of these things should cost very much at all. Which is sort of the point.)

Fuchsia's evangelical about the resourcefulness of Chinese home cooking, how light on the wallet and the waistline it is and what a shame it is that China's newfound wealth is corrupting a centuries' old reliance on simple things like vegetables and rice and a little bit of protein (far, far less than our Western diet could fathom). A bottle of black Chinkiang vinegar bought at my local Korean grocery the other day cost me less than 3 euros and it'll last me quite some time. So while you'll have to stock your pantry somewhat to get started with Chinese cooking, it's actually a very economical way to eat.

Reconstituted shiitake musrooms

The recipe that jumped out at me on my last perusal through the book was a braised dish of chicken and dried shiitake mushrooms. Most of the recipes in the book require a wok, but while I actually own an authentic hammered-steel wok given to us for our wedding by a friend in Hong Kong, I don't have a gas stove. So the wok sits patiently in the basement awaiting the day that we move to an apartment that still has a gas line (not an easy feat in Berlin). And I try to find recipes in Every Grain of Rice that could conceivably be made in a different pan. (And yes, a flat-bottomed wok for an electric stove is at the top of my shopping list now.)

This braise sounded perfect - I was supposed to stir-fry the chicken and aromatics to start, but the bulk of the cooking was going to be braising. I figured this was one dish where I could circumvent the missing wok without too much trouble.

Chicken and shiitake mushrooms

I've always been intimidated by Chinese cooking, just as I have been with Indian, for fear that I'd never be able to approximate the flavors and techniques of authentic Chinese food at home. But once again - ding ding! - it's nowhere near as complicated as it seems. What's crucial, besides assembling the correct pantry, is doing all the chopping and preparing before you start cooking. Because the cooking itself goes at lightning speed. The work is mostly beforehand.

In this case, you soak and chop dried shiitake mushrooms, chop chicken thighs into pieces roughly the same size as the mushrooms, peel and slice ginger and chop and bruise scallions. And that's it. After that's done, you put the pot on the stove and fairly fly through the rest of the recipe.

The chicken is briefly stir-fried before the ginger and scallions are added to the pan to let their aromas unfold. You pour in a bit of Shaoxing wine, the soaked mushrooms and their liquor, a bit more water, soy sauce, sugar and salt. This is cooked together for half an hour, during which time the broth goes a deep, rich brown. It's very exciting. At the end, you take off the lid from the pot and let the braising liquid reduce slightly.

Braised chicken with dried shiitake mushrooms

What you're left with are chunks of tender chicken, thoroughly infused with the aromatic flavors of ginger, scallions and soy. The mushrooms are silky-soft. And the broth - the broth! - is so good that I wished I'd made an entire potful of it. It was like chicken soup that had died and gone to heaven?

Incredible.

Fuchsia Dunlop's Braised Chicken with Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Serves 4 as part of a larger Chinese meal or 2 as a main with rice and a vegetable dish

8 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 boneless chicken thighs
2 scallions
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
About 200 ml chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
Salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water to cover for at least 30 minutes. Then cut them into quarters, reserving their soaking water. Cut the chicken into similarly-sized pieces. Cut the scallions into 2-inch sections and separate the white and green parts. Crush the whites slightly with the side of your knife handle. Slice the green parts thinly and set aside.

2. Add the cooking oil to a seasoned wok or braising pan over high heat. Then add the chicken and stir-fry for a few minutes until lightly browned. When the chicken is nearly done, add the ginger and scallion whites and allow the hot oil to release their fragrance.

3. Add the Shaoxing wine, stir a few times, then add the mushrooms, their soaking water and enough stock or water to make up 300 ml. Add the sugar, soy sauce and salt to taste.

4. Bring to a boil, then cover the wok or pot, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid, increase the heat and reduce the liquid to thicken the sauce. Adjust the seasoning, add the sliced scallion greens and sesame oil and serve.


Mark Bittman's Bok Choy with Shiitakes and Oyster Sauce

DSC_4630

The clock is ticking. In less than three weeks, I'll be on my way to the airport with a one-way ticket in my bag and my earthly possessions on the slow boat to China (well, or Hamburg, to be more accurate). I've gone from having a wobbly lip on every blessed New York sidewalk to becoming foot-tappingly impatient. I'm ready to say goodbye, I want to start writing, I need to do this thing, you know?

But patience is a virtue, toots. That's what I keep telling myself, when the butterflies in my stomach start whirling and I think of everything over there waiting for me, everyone over there waiting for me. And besides, there are still a few things I need to do while I'm here. I need to go to Kitchen Arts & Letters, though I am prohibited by cosmic law to buy anything, anything at all, while there (that international shipping bill isn't getting any smaller, is what I'm trying to say). I need to stroll in Central Park while drinking a hot chocolate with a big, puffy, homemade marshmallow melting oozily into it. I need to go to the Museum of Natural History one last time for that Silk Road exhibit. And I need to eat some Chinese food.

When I left Berlin, in 1995, there was one passable restaurant that we went to every once in a blue moon when the urge for Chinese food got rather overwhelming and there was no where else to turn. Apparently, things have gotten a little better there now - I've heard of a Sichuanese hole-in-the-wall and a dumpling place recommended by a friend's friend from Beijing - but good Chinese food, as ubiquitous as it is here, is still somewhat of a rarity.

Thrillingly, though, as long as I can find a grocery store selling bok choy, shiitakes and good-quality oyster sauce, I should be in pretty good shape. The Minimalist's recipe was a big hit in my kitchen on Sunday night: quick, delicious and fresh, and it practically tasted like take-out! I mean this as high praise, mind you. High, high praise indeed.

DSC_4612

And with that, lovely people, I leave you to your brining, your salting, your traveling, and your feast-preparing. This year, I'm staying put for a real New York City Thanksgiving. My loved ones are coming to me and we are going out on the town, to a late lunch at Back Forty book-ended by long walks all around this beautiful town and pie with friends. I am thrilled. And full of excitement for my own Thanksgiving next year, a German-American feast that I cannot wait to plan. Until then, I'm giving thanks every day.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Bok Choy with Shiitakes and Oyster Sauce

Serves 4

1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
1 1/2 pounds bok choy, trimmed
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
1/2 to 3/4 cup commercial oyster sauce

1. Soak dried shiitakes in one cup of very hot water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid. Trim mushrooms and chop. Separate leaves and stems of bok choy; cut stems into 2-inch lengths and slice leaves into ribbons.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. When oil is hot, add bok choy stems, garlic if you are using it, reconstituted mushrooms, and about 1/4 cup reserved mushroom water. Cook, stirring frequently, until stems are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small skillet heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil; sauté fresh shiitake mushrooms over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until they begin to brown and crisp on edges.

4. Into the large skillet or wok, add bok choy leaves and oyster sauce and toss vegetables gently to combine; continue cooking until greens wilt, about 2 more minutes. Serve immediately, topped with crisp mushrooms.


Irene Kuo's Stir-Fried Celery in Meat Sauce

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I never met a vegetable I didn't like. Zucchini, with its sweet, creamy flesh; swiss chard, thick and papery to start, then soulfully silky to finish; kohlrabi, with its refreshing, vegetal snap; eggplant, spongy in one moment, melting the next. Green beans and Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoletti, artichokes and spinach - I love them all, truly madly deeply.

But there is one little exception to the rule that I must confess doesn't exactly knock my socks off. In fact, I usually find it downright disappointing. Perhaps because my first encounters with it were when it appeared, chopped up fine, in alarmingly mushy tuna-fish sandwiches (the filling mashed down wetly into a hot dog bun, of all things), or as a stubby little vehicle for palate-gumming peanut butter at my elementary school cafeteria. When I learned to cook, the only time I ever came in contact with celery was in the base for meat sauce and I quickly learned that leaving it out rarely, if ever, harmed the sauce at all.

There's just something so strange and awkward about celery, isn't there? Its stalks flail about like a gangly boy's legs. I never seem able to finish a bunch of it before it goes all limp and wobbly in the fridge. And the taste, well, it's never been something I've craved. But after the spate of baking I did over the past few weeks and a run of days in which turkey, stuffing and more turkey featured largely in our daily meals, I took one look at my recipe clippings last night and plucked this one straight from the top.

If anyone could get me to like celery well enough to make it my entire meal, I figured, the Chinese could.

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First, I had to wrestle my way through the thicket of celery lying on my counter. And you know what I found out? Peeling celery, folks, must be right up there with training fleas as one of the jobs I'd least like to have on this Earth. But I soldiered through, convinced that celery nirvana awaited me on the other side of that swiftly growing pile of slimy, stringy peels lying in my sink.

A quick plunge into the hot, oily depths of my frying pan softened up the celery before it got tossed with a smashed garlic clove, a smattering of minced ginger, ground pork, and the pungent combination of chili sauce and soy sauce (my nostrils are still smarting). I gave the pan a good toss (there is something so satisfying about lifting a pan off the stove and shaking it so hard that everything flies up in the air and neatly falls back down again, just where it should, isn't there?) and then put the lid on to steam the celery into submission. White rice cooked away, plainly, on the stove.

As I waited for the celery to finish, I stood back and contemplated my apartment. It smelled like a Chinese restaurant. That in theory is better than in real life, truth be told. A few minutes later, I turned off the heat and stirred toasted sesame oil into the panful of pork and celery, fragrant and spicy. Then I stabbed around in the pan with a fork and brought a forkful to my lips.

And holy God, was it ever salty. And spicy. But mostly salty. And actually a whole lot spicy. Salty, spicy, salty, spicy, help, help, help - oh wait, what about that white rice? Man, it was like a cooling balm, that good white starch. The first bowl I ate had me mostly in pain with all that spice and salt. But then I found myself hankering after a second bowl, which was tastier and calmer than the first. I have a feeling this stuff will really shine tomorrow, after an overnight rest. The celery was muted, tamed - its stringiness gone, but its assertive crunch still there and its bold, grassy flavor tempered by all that heat, oil, and salt.

I'm still not sure I'll ever really love celery, but this brought me a whole lot closer to liking it.

Stir-Fried Celery in Meat Sauce
Serves 3 to 4


1 large bunch celery
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sriracha or other hot chili sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ cup canola or peanut oil
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large clove garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
2 teaspoons minced ginger
¼ pound ground pork
½ cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Using a peeler, remove the strings from the outer layer of the celery stalks. Trim the leaves, then slice the stalks into ¼ -by-1 ½ -inch sticks. (You should have about 4 cups.)

2. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, chili sauce, sherry and sugar.

3. Heat a wok or a large, heavy skillet fitted with a lid over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the celery and stir a few times; then add the salt and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the celery to a dish; clean and dry the wok.

4. Reheat the pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. After about 30 seconds, add the garlic clove, flipping a few times; then add the ginger and the pork, stirring to break up the lumps. Stir in the soy-sauce mixture. Return the celery to the pan and toss. Add the chicken stock, cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Steam to reduce the liquid, about 2 minutes.

5. Remove the lid, increase the heat to high and stir until the liquid has evaporated. Add the sesame oil and toss well. Discard the garlic clove.


Jennifer McLagan's Aromatic Chinese Oxtail Stew

Ribs

So, after finishing Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and feeling much like what I imagine our parents felt like after reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962, I vowed to myself never to buy industrial beef again. Oh sure, I'd already given up on supermarket eggs and chicken a long time ago, but now I've added meat to the list. Or rather, from now on I'll only be shopping for chicken, meat and eggs at the Greenmarket.

A lofty, unrealistic goal? Yeah, quite possibly. Who knows how sustainable these kinds of ideals are? And yet, I just don't know how to continue to justify buying meat and eggs from a place that doesn't care how those animals were raised or slaughtered and, more importantly, doesn't care about the effects that food has upon me, my family, my friends, and my fellow citizens. If you don't know what I'm going on about, seriously, buy yourself a copy of Pollan's book. It's so endlessly fascinating, rich with information and stories, and hugely important in its message. It's irreverent and funny, heartbreaking and infuriating to boot.

The point of the book is not just to talk about how we eat and why, but also about how we buy, how we're talked to and looked down upon by the industries that purport to nourish us, and how we can change the way we see our kitchen, the dinner table, grocery store and the people we rely upon to feed us. Forgive me if I'm proselytizing, but I'm feeling transformed.

The point of all this? To tell you that after finishing the book (and realizing I had friends coming over for dinner a few days later), I thought I should put my money where my mouth was. So I went to the greenmarket and bought what felt like the world's most expensive oxtail from John Gigliardi's Grass-Fed Beef. The recipe I wanted to make came from a piece in the New York Times last year about cooking with animal bones and called for five to six pounds of oxtail. If I had bought that amount from Gigliardi, it would have cost me $37. So, I asked for a little under four pounds, and figured I'd fudge the recipe a bit. The meat still cost $25.

Which makes me wonder - do grass-fed beef producers have to charge such high prices to actually make a profit? Or is it my mistake to think that oxtail, historically among the cheapest cuts, hasn't increased in price due to its "reverse snob appeal"? You tell me.

After a day of defrosting in my refrigerator, the oxtail were ready to go. First I browned them in batches, which always takes longer than I expect. When each piece was crusty and well-browned, I removed them to a plate, poured off the fat and poured in the Shaoxing wine to deglaze the pot. Then I added soy sauce and the aromatics and brought the mixture to a boil. The oxtail went back into the pot, as did some pieces of orange peel, and the whole thing went, covered, into the oven for three hours.

It takes a large amount of discipline not to eat dinner right at the moment that the kitchen timer buzzes, because your house will smell of all kinds of good things - browned and braising meat, savory sauces, fragrant fruity and spicy flavors. Good luck with your willpower. I removed the quivering oxtail to a baking pan and strain the dark sauce into a pan, before covering both and stashing them in the fridge. The next day, I warn you, you might be slightly disgusted at the task of scraping off the quarter-inch thick layer of fat on the sauce, but the heavenly smell will motivate you to keep going.

I liquefied the jellied sauce over a low flame, poured it over the chilled oxtail and put the baking dish back in the oven for another hour. In this time, the sauce thickened and the oxtail edges crisped while the interior meat became meltingly soft. We ate our oxtail stew over plain white rice, which soaked up the deliciously aromatic sauce. I didn't actually halve the sauce ingredients despite the fact that I used less meat - and it seemed to work out just fine. And the amount for four people was more than enough - I even had leftovers the next day.

This is humble food, but the exotic flavors give it a sheen of sophistication (not to mention a sense of accomplishment that the sauce tasted as good as something I've had in a Chinese restaurant - a good one!). Was the grass-fed beef so much better than the industrial kind? To be honest, it's kind of beside the point. This beef tasted delicious, cooked up perfectly and made me feel good on a couple different levels. So what if it cost more? I don't eat meat all that often anyway. Who knows, maybe this idea of eating as sustainably as possible isn't something I can afford in the long run, but I'm going to try. And maybe, just maybe, we're around the corner from a food revolution in this country and soon everyone will feel like I do. Wouldn't that be nice?

Aromatic Chinese Oxtail Stew
Serves 6

5 to 6 pounds oxtails, cut into pieces, fat trimmed
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1/3 cup dark or regular soy sauce
1½ tablespoons brown sugar
1 star anise, broken into pieces
3 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths, plus 2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal, for garnish
6 slices fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 orange, 4 large strips of zest removed with a vegetable peeler and reserved
Cooked rice, for serving

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Season oxtails with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, brown oxtail all over, removing each piece when done. Add oil as needed.

2. When done browning, pour off extra fat from bottom of empty pot and set pot over high heat. Add wine and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. In a bowl, mix soy sauce and sugar with 2 cups water and pour into pot. Add star anise, 2-inch pieces of scallions, ginger and garlic and bring to a boil. Turn off heat. Return oxtails to pot and add orange zest. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook 1½ hours.

3. Turn over pieces of oxtail, cover again and cook 1½ hours more, or until oxtail is very tender. Transfer oxtail pieces to a baking dish. Strain sauce into a separate saucepan; discard contents of strainer. Cover oxtails and sauce and refrigerate overnight.

4. The next day, heat oven to 300 degrees; remove oxtails and sauce from refrigerator. Lift off any fat on surface of sauce and discard. Gently warm sauce until liquid, then pour over oxtails. Cover with foil or a lid and bake 30 minutes.

5. Uncover, stir and raise oven temperature to 400 degrees. Cook, uncovered, 15 minutes. Stir again and cook another 15 minutes, until hot and glazed thickly with sauce. Meanwhile, squeeze ¼ cup juice from orange. Remove oxtails from oven, stir in orange juice, and serve in bowls over rice. Sprinkle each serving with thin scallion slices.