Have you ever had oxtails? Most people I know haven’t even heard of them, which is really quite a shame. Think braised beef short ribs, but with even more flavor, and you’ll get a sense of why those of us who eat oxtail get dreamy eyed when we think about them.
Yes oxtails come from a steer’s tail—a well exercised muscle, marbled with fat. The segments are vertebrae so they have lots of iron-rich marrow as well.
My father, who grew up during the Depression, remembers oxtails as being food for people with little money, because they could be had so cheap. You could get them for pennies a pound.
These days, they’re somewhat hard to come by and no longer cheap (though you can sometimes get a good deal on them at Costco and Asian markets).
As with most tough cuts, oxtail are best slow cooked for several hours. They tend to be fatty, so we like to cook them a day ahead, so we can chill them overnight and scrape off the fat from the top the next day.
We serve the oxtails with the bone-in, though if you want you can easily remove the bones from the meat before serving.
- 3 lbs (1.3kg) oxtails with separated joints
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 2 cups (475 ml) stock (chicken or beef)*
- 2 cups (475 ml) of red wine
- 3 whole cloves garlic, peel still on
- One bay leaf
- Pinch of thyme
- 2 carrots, cut into 1-inch segments, large pieces also cut lengthwise
- 2 parsnips, cut into 1-inch segments, large pieces also cut lengthwise
- 2 turnips or rutabagas, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
*If cooking gluten-free use homemade stock or gluten-free packaged stock.
1 Brown the oxtails: Pat dry oxtails with paper towels. Sprinkle oxtails all over with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium to medium high heat in a 6-quart Dutch oven.
Working in batches, and not crowding the pan, sear the oxtails in hot pan on all sides until golden brown. Use tongs to remove oxtails to a plate, setting aside.
2 Sauté onions, carrots, celery: Add the chopped onion, carrot, and celery to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until onions are translucent.
3 Add oxtails, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, salt, stock, wine, then simmer: Add the oxtails back to the pan. Add the whole garlic cloves, the stock and wine. Add bay leaf, thyme, and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 3 hours, until meat is fork tender.
4 Roast root vegetables: One hour before the meat is done, heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Toss carrots, parsnips, and turnips in olive oil in a roasting pan. Sprinkle well with salt and pepper.
Roast vegetables for 1 hour, or until lightly browned and cooked through.
5 Skim fat: When meat is tender, remove oxtails from the cooking liquid. Either skim the fat off the top with a spoon, use a fat separator to remove the fat, or chill the cooking liquid for several hours so that the fat solidifies, making it easier to remove.
If you are making ahead, at this point you can just put the stew in the refrigerator (let come to room temp first), with the oxtails still in it, and let it chill over night. The next day, scrape off the fat, reheat and then remove the meat from the dish.
6 Strain solids from cooking liquid, reduce liquid: Pour the cooking liquid through a mesh strainer into a bowl, using a rubber spatula to press against the vegetable solids caught in the strainer.
Discard the solids. Return the liquid to the pan and simmer until reduced by half.
7 Add back oxtails, roasted vegetables: Then add back in the oxtails, and add the roasted vegetables to the pan. Heat on low heat for half an hour for the flavors to meld.
Add some chopped parsley before serving.