Put your hands together for Jeff Janssens -- AKA the Masticating Monkey -- who will be writing the Eat This feature here at AOA.
I realize I might be starting off on the wrong foot here as the new caretaker of the Eat This! column. In the middle of this hot summer, I'm recommending a stew--a not-particularly photogenic one, at that.
I hope this says something about the oxtail stew at The Dutch Pot in Albany. This is a plate of meaty, saucy goodness that showcases such a satisfying medley of flavors that it's worth seeking out and eating anytime, anywhere.
A classic Jamaican meal, oxtail stew has roots that stretch from Africa to the American South and into the Caribbean. From the tender oxtail to the assertive pimento and scotch bonnet flavors, its not an exaggeration to say you can taste that tradition throughout The Dutch Pot's oxtail stew.
The restaurant's oxtail stew pays proper homage its namesake -- a Dutch oven, the cast iron or cast aluminum cooking vessel also known as a dutchie. This is a dish that must be cooked low and slow for several hours, though to keep the cooking time to only around six hours, Danielle Davis, the owner and chef at The Dutch Pot, moves the process along by using a pressure cooker.
Oxtail, which refers simply to the meat found along the tail of a cow, is relatively foreign to many American diners. In fact, because few cattle are actually raised in Jamaica, even in that country it's imported from the United States. And just like in the American South, Jamaicans regularly eat parts of the cow many Americans might initially blanch at, such as tripe or intestines (commonly known as chitlins in the South).
"I think [the tradition of eating oxtail] came over from Africa when our forefathers came over," says Davis. "If you go back to slavery, you'll find that the slave owners would eat the choice portions [of the protein] while the slaves would get what's left: the entrails, the heads, the feet."
While oxtail isn't a choice cut, it is an excellent part of the cow for stewing. Its fatty, gelatinous nature is perfect for all the flavor it imparts the stew during the cooking process. By the time it's served, the meat should be falling off the bone. You can eat it with a knife and fork, certainly, but before long you might find yourself picking up the oxtail in your hand and sucking off any last edible bits.
And those are especially worth savoring because of the sauce the oxtail is stewed in and then served with. Davis says she uses a blended seasoning of scallions, onions, thyme, and allspice (known as pimento in Jamaica), plus an imported oxtail spice mix from Jamaica. To temper the sometimes salty nature of such a seasoning blend, she adds lima beans, which soak up the salt and mellow out the sauce.
In the end, the dish features a bit of heat (likely from the scotch bonnet pepper that so frequently stars in Jamaican cuisine) but never an overwhelming amount. The rich, savory blend of flavors is front and center; the thyme, which Davis seems particularly fond of, creates a noticeable layer of depth to the sauce, while the freshly-crushed pimento seeds showcase a bright earthiness, providing hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.
The Dutch Pot has been open for just over a year, operating out of a small storefront on Madison Ave, just off the busiest part of Lark Street. With a few tables inside and a couple on the sidewalk, Davis -- a life-long resident of Jamaica until she moved to the Capital Region five years ago -- says of the space, "What I wanted to do was to not have a hole in the wall, but a classy ambience. Eventually I'd like to have a bigger spot where people can sit down and have more of a fine dining experience."
For now, it's a perfectly adequate spot to eat in -- where you can enjoy the rapport between Davis and her many frequent customers -- or pick up food to eat at home.
The oxtail stew can be ordered as part of a lunch special for $7.99, where it can be accompanied by sides such as the always sweetly delicious fried plantains, or as part of a meal -- $8.99 for a small and $10.99 for a portion large enough to adequately fill two hungry diners.
Even if you're not able to find an air conditioned room in which to eat your oxtail stew, maybe the moderate heat of the dish can turn on your body's natural air conditioning. Or it could create the illusion that you're actually on vacation in Montego Bay, sitting outside on a beach patio, sipping on a ginger beer while enjoying some authentic and delicious Jamaican cuisine.
Jeff Janssens writes about food beer at The Masticating Monkey.
The Dutch Pot
418 Madison Ave
Albany, NY 12210
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