Oxtail has long been a common ingredient used in culinary cultures across the world. Often dismissed as an undesirable byproduct of cattle, it’s largely fallen out of favour in today’s meat-abundant and convenience-first societies. And yet it remains a prized ingredient for some of the world’s best chefs.
So if you’ve ever wondered why, in spite of your best efforts, the soups and stews you cook at home taste nothing like those that have blown your mind in your favourite restaurants, then you need to read on. Oxtail may just be the secret ingredient that’s missing.
Traditionally, oxtail was a term used to describe the cut of meat taken from the tail of an ox. No surprises there, of course, but these days its meaning is somewhat broader. It’s now more likely to refer to the tail of more commonly consumed cattle, such as beef or veal.
The consumption of oxtail dates back to when no part of a slaughtered animal went to waste, but you’d be mistaken to think it doesn’t have any culinary merit in countries where meat is abundant. The tail contains a large amount of collagen, which makes for a gelatine-rich meat with a unique texture that provides a wonderful viscosity to comforting soups and stews.
An oxtail is rarely sold full, but cut into different sizes. Cuts taken from nearer the end of the tail are, as you might expect, more narrow, while cuts taken from nearer the tail’s base will be wider. In each case, the bone – and thus, the gelatine-rich marrow – is in the centre of the cut surrounded by fatty meat.
How to cook oxtail
Because oxtail contains a high amount of bone and fat in relation to meat, it’s best suited to slow-cooking. Although top chefs have discovered myriad methods of utilising the cut, the traditional – and still most common – technique is to braise it in a liquid. This is a technique used in preparing oxtail in all continents across the world.
Cooking the oxtail slowly at a low temperature will release gelatine from the bone and cartilage in the middle, thickening the braising liquid into something luxurious and velvety.
To do this, you’ll need a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or crock pot. Whatever you use, however, you’ll also need at least 3 hours to cook the oxtail, with some recipes even suggesting that you let it sit overnight.
So without further ado, let’s get stuck into some of our favourite oxtail recipes.
Jamaican oxtail stew
If delicious, spicy and protein-packed stews are your thing, then head over to the African Bites blog because this Jamaican oxtail stew recipe is a must-try. The meat melts off the bone to join a party in your mouth with chunky vegetables, succulent butter beans, and fiery Scotch bonnet chilli peppers. You might need a bit of willpower here though – the gorgeous deep brown colour will make your mouth water long before you finish cooking it.
Imma, the owner of the African Bites blog, also offers up a great tip: if you want to make the liquid even more velvety, throw in some chopped potatoes to add natural starches to the oxtail’s gelatine.
If what you’re after is a straightforward, no-nonsense meat dish to serve with whatever carbohydrates or vegetables you choose, then you can’t go wrong with this braised oxtail recipe at the Spruce Eats.
With the braising giving the oxtail a syrupy-looking glaze, rarely has a pot full of meat looked quite so stunning. Serve it with a carbohydrate like mashed potatoes, couscous or polenta for soaking up some of the sauce, as well as a side of vegetables for balance. We’d recommend some simple steamed greens, like string beans or collard or mustard greens.
Southern smothered oxtail
This is the Southern soul-food take on the braised oxtail above, courtesy of Rosie at I Heart Recipes. She says it’s one of her favourite dishes and, with the oxtail slow cooked in onion and garlic gravy for over eight hours, that’s not hard to believe. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes for the very definition of comfort food.
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