Oxtail 101

A rich, flavourful and comforting world classic, oxtail stew is one of the dishes every cook needs to make at least once every winter.

13 Apr 2010

Way back when oxtail stew was indeed made of the tail of oxen, but today cow's tail is used instead.
Oxtail was a favourite dish of the poor and hardworking class in times when meat was scarce, and no part of the animal went to waste.
It was also often given away for free or sold at cut price as it was deemed unsuitable for the hoi poloi.
Little did they know that it is one of the best tasting meat dishes anyone can make – hearty, rich, nourishing and warming, it's one of the world's favourite comfort foods.

Oxtail 101
Choose large, fat tails, which have plenty of meat on them and have been jointed, ready for cooking.
The meat should be dark and clean and the fat, creamy white.
Allow one tail for three to four people. Oxtail requires long, slow cooking to develop the flavour and is best cooked the day before eating and allowed to cool completely overnight.
The fat will rise to the surface and can be removed easily before re-heating.
Oxtail freezes and re-heats extremely well.

Oxtail is certainly flavourful, but a lot of the good taste comes from the bones and marrow that infuse the meat during the slow cooking.
This cut also releases a large amount of collagen during cooking, which is why the final stew is so deliciously gelatinous – sticking together yet falling apart.

Oxtail recipes vary, but most classically the meat is dusted with flour, browned, red wine, herbs such as thyme, bay leaves and parsley, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and beef stock are added, and it is left to simmer for about 3 hours until the meat is tender but not yet falling off the bone.
Some cooks like to reduce a whole bottle of red wine by half (through cooking, not drinking!), add this to the browned meat and braise it for a while before adding the other ingredients and starting the simmer.
Carrots, celery, leeks, parsley and coarsely chopped shallots are traditionally added to the stew, although parsnips, mushrooms, potatoes, peas and tomatoes also are often used.

Tips & tricks:

  • Ask the butcher to cut the oxtail into joints as this is tricky business for the uninitiated.
  • Substitute meaty veal or beef neck, short rib, shank or other various soup bones, but don't expect quite as robust a flavour.
  • If you substitute short ribs of beef, the cooking time will be about 30 minutes longer.
  • Flavour with orange and garnish with orange rind and deep-fried walnuts.
  • If you're adding tomatoes or eggplant cut them into large chunks and add after the first hour so they don't cook to a complete pulp.
9 things to do with oxtail:

Braised Oxtail
Oxtail and mashed potatoes
Oxtail in beer
Oxtail soup
Oxtail with green apple
Curry oxtail stew
Oxtail and root vegetable stew
Oxtail stew with white bean casserole
Tomato oxtail



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