In another lifetime I was a groovy young girl-about-town, living in share houses with varying numbers of people and cats in Sydney's inner west. Erskineville - affectionately known as Erko - had a lot going for it. It was 500m from King St, Newtown (arguably the coolest street in Sydney) but a lot cheaper than a Newtown address. It had The Rose, where they not only served the most wonderful salt & pepper calamari as a bar snack but also made some of the best cocktails I have ever had. It had a drycleaner who didn't ask any questions when presented with duvets with cat sick on them. And it had Maggie's Thai.
Maggie's distinguished itself from the dozens of other Thai takeaways in the area, not because it was cheaper or prettier, but because it had the occasional different dish on the menu. On principal I used to order from the specials board. And so it was that one day I tried an oxtail tom yum soup and fell in love. Big chunks of succulent oxtail in a firey but balanced hot and sour broth with the inspired touch - wedges of fresh tomato. I'd suck the meat from the knobbly bones, taking bites of the acid-sweet tomato, pouring spoonfuls of the soup over steamed jasmine rice and work myself into a state of food-induced bliss.
I'm a long way from Maggie's now, and I have never seen oxtail tom yum on another menu, so I have had to develop my own (inauthentic) way of doing it.
First, I braise pieces of oxtail in a Chinese red-braising master stock similar to this one of Kylie Kwong's. It takes about 6 hours to get really tender. I lift the meat out (strain the stock and freeze it and reuse it) and when it is cool enough to handle, I pull the sheets of fat off and strip the meat from the bones. Not strictly necessary but I would rather take a bit of trouble at this point and make it easier to eat later! And the fat puts people off oxtail, when it is rich, deliciously flavoured meat.
The following day I make up a pot of tom yum broth (chicken stock, bought tom yum paste, kaffir lime leaves, bruised lemon grass stalks & some coins of ginger), add the oxtail meat, correct the flavour with fish sauce and lime or lemon juice and then pour it over wedges of fresh tomato and some bean shoots (or bag of precut stirfry vegetables). It is spicy, comforting, meaty and very satisfying as a meal in a bowl.