Oxtail: The Prince of Meats

Oxtail is the tail of beef cattle or veal of either gender. Once a throwaway piece of meat, the oxtail has become an international delicacy. This cut of meat is known for its rich flavor and velvety texture. Since it is a tail, the core of the meat is comprised of bone, cartilage, and connective tissue. When these elements break down during cooking, they release immense flavor into the meat. The oxtail can be found in British, Italian, and American cuisines and Russian, Spanish, and Jamaican. Some favorite ways to prepare oxtail are to stew or braise the meat. Some may consider the oxtail to be a relatively “ugly” cut, but when cooked, the flavor and texture are very similar to beef short ribs.

Since this cut of meat includes a large amount of bone and cartilage, it needs to be cooked low and slow to break them down. So, stewing the meat in a slow cooker, a pressure cooker, or braising it in a liquid like wine or beef stock is the best way to bring out the flavor. Another way to utilize the oxtail is to use it to make beef stock. Oxtail stock is thick, rich, and gelatinous again due to the breakdown of the bone and cartilage. Though the cooking methods of oxtail may be limited, the seasonings and other elements you can add to the dish are not. Since oxtail is such an international dish, here are two unusual oxtail recipes you can find around the world that feature unique flavor profiles.

Chinese Braised Oxtail
Chinese Braised Oxtail
This delicious oxtail recipe features classic Chinese flavors and is typically made during the holidays. The dish features braised oxtail in a sticky sauce that’s thicker than your typical braised meat recipe. To prepare this dish, you will need the following:

3 pounds meaty oxtails
1 tablespoon oil
2 half-inch thick slices of fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic
3-4 pieces star anise
6 cloves
3 bay leaves
½ cup Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rock sugar or regular sugar
1 1/2 cups water
Salt, to taste

Clean the oxtails and pat them dry with a paper towel. Cut them into 2-3-inch-thick pieces. Heat oil in a large pan or skillet over medium-high heat and brown the oxtails on all sides. Once browned, remove the meat and set it aside. In the pot add the ginger, garlic, star anise, cloves, and bay leaves. Stir the spices and let them bloom for about two minutes. Then add the Shaoxing wine, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sugar, water, and salt. (Make sure you salt lightly since soy sauce is already salty.) Add the oxtail meat back into the pot and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. For meat that is falling-off-the-bone tender, simmer for 3 ½ hours. For meat with a little more chew, only simmer for 2 ½ hours. Check the pot halfway through and add more water if needed. After two or three hours, remove the lid and continue simmering for another 30 minutes to reduce the sauce. Once the sauce has reached a sticky consistency, remove it from the heat. Serve over steamed white rice and garnish with chopped green onions!

Italian Oxtail Stew

Italian Oxtail Soup
This classic Italian oxtail stew is made with a “guazzetto” sauce or a sauce that is “splashed with wine.” This is a savory and hearty dish featuring mushrooms, onions, and carrots. To make this stew, you will need:

1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces oxtails
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 (15-ounce) can of diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 cup beef stock or chicken stock

Preheat your oven to 275 F. In a small pot, bring ½ cup of water to boil. Remove from the heat and add the dried porcini mushrooms. After they have rehydrated for 15 minutes, remove the mushrooms and set them aside. Strain the mushroom water through a cheesecloth or a coffee filter and set it aside as well. Toss oxtails in a generous amount of salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown the oxtails on all sides. Remove the meat from the pot and set it aside. Add the onions and carrots to the pot with a generous pinch of salt and let them sweat over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Wrap the bay leaf, clove, rosemary, and thyme in a cheesecloth and tie with a string. Increase the heat back to medium-high and add wine to deglaze the pot. Add all remaining ingredients, including the spice bag, oxtails, mushrooms, and mushroom water. Add just enough stock to cover the oxtails. Bring the pot to a boil, then immediately cover and place in the oven for three hours. Check periodically and add water or stock as necessary. Take the pot out of the oven and remove the oxtails. Shred the meat and set it aside. Place the pot on the stove and reduce the liquid over medium-high heat until only roughly a cup is left. Add the meat back into the stew, and serve over pasta, polenta, or bread.

If you want to delve deeper into the world of unique and unusual oxtail recipes, we suggest you look at cuisines outside your comfort zone. Some incredible Jamaican recipes are available online, as well as Russian, British, and Spanish options. Even the American south has some great dishes to try. Keep experimenting with different techniques and flavors. You’re sure to find a family favorite. We hope you’ll try out these two awesome recipes along the way. Happy cooking