We had caldo de res at Pacific Taco #1 in Escondido the other day. Pacific Taco #1 is my favorite local Mexican restaurant. But you have to order "real" Mexican food, not just a carne asada burrito or a chicken taco, which, in my mind, is geared towards Americans that think they're eating Mexican food.
Their shrimp cocktail is a mix of (I think) Clamato, shrimp, cilantro, chilies, cilantro, red onion, and cucumber - to die for. Their red snapper in garlic sauce is absolutely delicious, although really bad on the arteries. The siete mares is a seafood feast - pieces of fish, a crab leg, a few shrimp, baby calamari (affectionately known as monsters in my household). All of their soups have beautifully seasoned broths and perfectly cooked vegetables.
But this isn't meant to be a restaurant review.
Caldo de res is Mexican beef soup, typically made with oxtails, sometimes beef shanks (think osso buso). I've had it with any or all of the following vegetables: potato, zucchini, carrot, corn, chayote, cabbage.
After lunch at Pacific Taco, I decided that I, too, could make caldo de res. And so I did. While buying the requisite vegetables, I was trying to figure out what the mystery vegetable was in the caldo I just ate. It looked and felt like a potato, but tasted a little "greener" and had fibrous striations. Parsnip, I said, and bought one. Then when I got home and Google'd, I realized it was chayote. Final flavor was not affected by the mistaken substitution (hubby actually preferred parsnip over chayote).
I'm extremely fussy about my soups, the meat-scum and the fat that floats to the top that must be skimmed off, the consistency of the boiled parts, the degree of puree-ification, the amount of meat on and off the bone. I'm probably more OCD than most, so I've revised my directions for more normal people.
And as a last note before the recipe, caldo de res fits into my theory that Mexican cooking consists of overcooking meat to the point to where it re-tenderizes. I've learned from hubby to simmer my chicken breast absolutely forever when making enchiladas. Chili verde involves lean pork cooked so long that you'd think it would be leather, but after a certain point, it gets soft again. And you know how squid should only be cooked for a minute, and after that it's rubbery and chewy and, quite frankly, gross? If you stew it for an hour, it's delicious.
Caldo de Res
2-3 lb oxtails
1 onion, cut in wedges
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tomatoes, cut in wedges, seeded
1 bay leaf
2 white rose potatoes, cut into 1.5" chunks
1.5 carrots, cut into 1.5" long pieces, thick ends halved lengthwise
1 parsnip, cut like carrots
1 zucchini, cut in 3 pieces crosswise, then vertically thru the middle
1/2 small cabbage, cut into 3 wedges, then crosswise 3 times
1 ear corn, cut into 4 pieces
Put the oxtails in a big soup pot, and cover with water by about 2 inches. Chuck in the tomato and onion wedges and the garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for at least 2 hours. Skim the scum off the top at the beginning of cooking, then the fat later on.
When the meat is almost-but-not-quite falling off the bones, remove it from the pot, and mash up the remaining veggies in the pot (removing the bay leaf first). Return the meat to the pot, and add the carrot, potato, corn and parsnip. Simmer about 15 minutes. Add zucchini, and simmer 10 minutes more. Finally add the cabbage, and simmer 5-10 minutes, or until everything is almost over-done.
If you're like me, when you mashed your veggies (see above), you cut off some of the meat from the oxtails, removed the gelatinous-cartilage-fat-skin-lining-stuff, and tossed the resulting meat back in the pot. The abused oxtails were also somewhat cleaned of cartilage-y stuff, and also returned to the pot. (To me, eating is about 50% textural, and I can't stand slimy cartilaginous tissue, even though it tastes really good.)
Stir in the cilantro and parsley, and salt to taste. Garnish with chopped red onion, cilantro, chiles de arbol, and lime juice. Traditionally, serve with tortillas, although as a white girl, I still can't figure out what to do with tortillas and soup. Give me a nice chunk of crusty bread instead, please.