Vietnamese Oxtail Soup
Cut 1 of the onions into ¼-inch slices. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion slices and sauté until they just begin to brown. Drain the oil from the browned onion and set aside.
Slice the remaining onion into paper-thin slices. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
Rinse the oxtails in cold water and place them in a stock pot. Cover the tails with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and skim any residue that has come to the surface. Let simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the browned onions, ginger, carrots, cinnamon, star anise, peppercorns, and garlic. Return the stock to a simmer and cook for 6 to 8 hours, adding water if necessary.
When the broth is done, skim off any additional residue. Remove the oxtails from the pot and let cool until easy to handle. Remove the meat from the bones. Arrange the meat on a platter and garnish it with the sliced green onions. Discard the bones.
Strain the broth and return to the stove. Add the fish sauce and black pepper to taste. Keep warm.
On a second platter, arrange the bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, sliced chilies, and lime wedges.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Plunge the softened rice noodles in the water to heat. Drain.
To serve, place a portion of the noodles in each bowl. Set a tureen of the broth on the table along with the platter of oxtail meat and the platter of accompaniments. Let your guests serve themselves.
Don't be afraid of eating tails! These inexpensive pieces of meat are extremely tender and flavorful when braised in this fashion. If you can't find oxtails, beef or veal shanks would be a great substitute.