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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sancocho de Cola De Res (Ox Tail Stew)

Sancocho de Cola De Res  (Ox Tail Stew)
Blanca Valbuena can appreciated this hearty staple.  It's a dish she grew up with as she watched her mother and grandmother both cook the savory fare.  "Ox tail is one of my favorite cuts of beef," states Blanca.  "There is nothing more delicious than sucking on the bones and getting as much flavor as possible from the connective tissue. The best part is the itty bitty ends.  They hold the most flavor and the most fun to eat. The secret to Ox Tail Stew is adding calabaza 'pumpkin.'  It works to thicken and flavor the soup."  

The family recipe, handed down from generation to generation, was passed by her grandmother too her mother, her aunts, then taught to her which holds a Latin flare that enhances the taste.  Blanca said,  "My mom is an amazing cook. She does not delve into fancy dishes often.  Most of the time, she makes stews and soups that were the unwritten recipes pass on to her by my grandmother.  Using only her memory, it is so imperative that I write everything down as she cooks.  There are no quantities and she does everything instinctively and quite fun to watch."

Blanca,  born in historic Ubate, Colombia is located north of the capitol city Bogota, founded in 1592.  Ubate takes its name from the word "Ebate," meaning Bloodied land  by the once populated Chibcha tribe that lived in the area.  Today, the town is known as the "Dairy Capital of Colombia" and for their historic Cathedrals and the San Luis Convent.  

Moving to the United States, Blanca was raised in New York, coming to America in 1987 as a child with her family.  After a separation of her parents, she would be raised by her mother and grandmother were the two women influenced her to enjoy food and Latin cuisine. "When I was little girl, there were no restaurant meals. Every day abuelita, Spanish for grandma - Nelly would wake up to make breakfast for my mom and I.  As I would come home for lunch, it was a banquet.  Soup, a plate of rice with some sort of protein, vegetables and homemade juices. Dinner was also a feast.  While food was very abundant, it was always very modest food made with love," states Blanca.  "I still remember shucking peas, the grinding beef with a hand grinder with the family on weekends. Cooking was just a part of life and not an afterthought."

Today, Blanca is the Editor in Chief at  "Friends Eat." An internet web site devoted to food, home based in New York City.  Highly ranked with Alexa, the web site ranks in the top 100,000 global traffic reports as the site covers everything from the best places too eat,  top restaurant reviews, coupons, gourmet recipes and stories covering nearly every imaginable food topic. 

Graduating from Rutgers University majoring in Art History,  she enjoys taking in a museum of fine arts on weekends. As a huge art enthusiast, she also occasionally paints as a hobby averring it is not as often as she desires.  

She confesses, her two favorite foods; "I absolutely adore eating sushi. Although there are only a few places I will eat it. It makes me sad that there's so much sub par Sushi being served all over the place.  Especially with the sustainability issues we are facing.   My second favorite food; Macaroni and Cheese. Funny,  as much as my mom and grandma influenced my cooking, the two dishes I love most they never made," states Blanca. 

While Blanca enjoys humble foods, she also enjoys fine dinning. Her favorite of all cooks is Chef Thomas Keller who owns several renown restaurants.  "Everyone should eat at the Per Se, at least once in their life time," said Blanca about Chef Keller's New York City restaurant located in the Time Warner Center.  Chef Keller also owns the landmark Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California, which has won multiple awards from the James Beard Foundation as well a perennial winner in the annual Restaurant Magazine list of the Top 50 Restaurants of the World.

Along with art, Blanca states she has an obsession with 'A Song of Ice and Fire' the ongoing epic fantasy novel series by American novelist and screenwriter George R. R. Martin.   Blanca commented, "I find myself scouring Reddit to get more info on the book as I anxiously await its release."  

The web site Friend's Eat was created by sheer accident.  Antonio Evans who is Blanca's life and business partner had together, attended a highly rated basque restaurant.  The couple, expecting to have the night of their life, experience a horrible dinner where the two decided the need for a platform to share her strife with those who would appreciate her knowledge of quality dinning and excellent food.  

Founding the web site in 2006, Antonio and Blanca has developed a community that is comprised of chefs, restaurateurs, food bloggers, and foodies throughout the world.    While Blanca does not describe herself as a foodie as much as someone who just appreciates the joy and love for great food,  devotes many articles along with her staff that approach health concerns about modern food industry practices.  "I think there is a lot of the health issues that are related to food and some of our stories are driven by the lack of quality information. If I know that someone has read our blogs, picked up a small bit of knowledge that in turn makes their kids healthier, I then consider myself happy." 

While Blanca does not get to visit with her relatives in Colombia as often as she would like, she states, "It just makes me cherish them even more.  The wholesome dishes are forever a reminder of heritage and the love passed on generation to generation."   Today,  Blanca Valbuena keeps her home in New York with Antonio, her mother and their dog Petey.  

 "Sancocho de Cola" Ox tail Stew

Cooks who hired on the various outfits during the cattle drives came from many different ethnic backgrounds. Their cultural heritage influenced the cooking styles used working the chuckwagon with ingredients on hand, their culinary knowledge and the available time to prepare meals.  Creations often simple were given unique names like Son of a Gun Stew, Cornmeal Mush or  Black Pudding.  Sancocho de Cola De Res, a Spanish influenced stew was made by cooks of other heritage called niú-wěi-tāng to the hand full of Chinese cooks that work the trail drives. The Gringo's just called the dish, Ox Tail Soup that would later become so popular, the Campbell Soup Company founded in 1866 would eventually carry the product. Although today, it has been discontinued by Campbell's in the United States, the Heinz company continues to sell this canned entree in the United Kingdom.  

The secret to a great Ox Tail Stew is adding calabaza 'pumpkin.' states Blanca Valbuena, Editor and Chief of  "It works to thicken and flavor the soup.  Colombians use pretty much every part of the cow. When you go to the galleria (the farmer’s market) you will find all the yummy parts that are unusual to people in the United States: Brain, Eyeballs, Tripe, Tongue and Ox Tail to name a few.  I think ox tail is a nice way to introduce people to more unusual parts. It is simply scrumptious. This is my family recipe for ox tail stew. There are no real measurements, you just add more or less depending on how many people will be eating that day."


Ox Tail (make sure it’s cut into individual pieces)
Chicken Stock
Green plantain (Do not peel or chop the plantain until the moment you’re putting it in the stew)
Scallion (1 stalk)
Potato (chopped)
Yucca  (chopped)
Pumpkin (chopped, skinned and seeded)


Put the ox tail in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cook for an hour (if you don’t have chicken stock, use water).
Add the plantain and corn, cook for 1/2 hour.
Add the potato and pumpkin (calabaza), cook for 1/2 hour.
Add the yucca (cassava), cook for 1/2 hour.
Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro.
Serve with a side of white rice and a slice of avocado. You can also slice a banana and add to the soup. It may sounds weird, but is really delicious.
Ox Tail Stew

Story by Roger Edison, Photos provided by Friends Eat: 

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