I have no idea who the first person was to think of eating that silly little tail that looks to have almost no meat on it at all. I imagine the first attempts produced what you expect from a part of the cow that swings there most of the day. Scrawny on most, the tail has large sinewy muscles that can make it tough and stringy, leaving little to be desired. While the oxtails you find in your meat market today are actually from cattle, the originals were from oxen. There is little difference between the two in taste and nutrition, so they continue to be called oxtails by most.
Making a good oxtail is all in the cooking, and it does take some cooking. This is not a quick dish by any means, and if it were it would not be nearly as good. I have eaten oxtails that you literally had to let go of your fork and grab with your hands to try and pull the meat off simply to eat. Oxtails in soups and stews do seem to be more tender, but you do not want to eat them in only these ways. I wanted something I could serve as a main dish, something that could be highlighted against the side dishes, and would surprise the people at my table. So I took some parts of stew and soup recipes, and added a little here, took some away there, and came up with this recipe that serves up more like a ragout than anything.
So to help introduce you to a meat that is absolutely wonderful when made correctly, I want to share with you my recipe for Oxtails. No one will even realize that they are eating what some may consider “leftovers”. If you have never eaten oxtails, I hope you will take a chance on these.
They are most definitely worth trying! And it just isn’t me who says that.
This recipe and photos are courtesy of Cynthia Detterick-Pineda of Andrews, TX. More of Cynthia’s Southwest Recipes.
People are incredibly resourceful when they have to be. When in need or in desperate times, they have taken what others did not want and made good use of it. Over the centuries, poverty, war, drought, and times of starvation have helped people learn how to take what they have, no matter how little, and make something of it that will help pull them through those hard times. Native Americans have been known for how they could use the entire animal for food, clothing, and even weapons. There have been stories told of people lost in the mountains and without food, yet they learned how to survive on whatever foods were there for them, such as berries and small game. But even when they had to relay on the “leftovers” of others for a food source, they usually found a way to make it more than just edible, but wonderfully delicious.
During the wars which gained Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma as United State’s Territories, the common people of Mexico (which then included these states) would give most all of the meat from their livestock to the soldiers as a way to help the war effort. This often left them with little to live off. You might think I am headed towards some recipe that includes offal, but not quite yet.
I think the introduction to these foods, as wonderful as they can be, should be a slow and gentle one. I do not want to scare anyone away by rushing in and describing how to cook creadillas. If you have looked over many of my recipes, you might have already seen one recipe that is highly prized by many in the Southwest, Menudo. While there are several variations on this recipe, the main ingredient doesn’t change, and that is tripe. Knuckles and feet from calves and pigs may be thrown in the mix, and that makes it even stranger to many people who have not been introduced to these types of foods. These foods cover not only the Southwest, but the entire South in some form or another. Chitterlings or Chitlins as some say it, are not far off from Menudo on my recipe scale, and it is easy to find the close cousins of creadillas and sesos in the deep South.
- About 4 pounds of Oxtails (these come already sliced in most markets)
- Coarse salt or sea salt (enough to rub the meat thoroughly)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (vegetable oil can be used)
- 2 cups of beef stock or broth
- 1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar (commercial-grade)
- 750 ml bottle of good Spanish red wine*
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon), if using dry, decrease to 1 teaspoon and crush well
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon), if using dry, decrease to 1 teaspoon and crush well
- 1 sprig of fresh oregano, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon), if using dry, decrease to 1 teaspoon and crush well
- 1/2 teaspoon of dry tarrago, crushed (Fresh is preferable - use about 2 teaspoons of fresh that has been finely chopped)
- 2 leeks, washed and sliced into 1/8 rounds from the white end up to the tough green part
If your oxtail did not come sliced, remove it from the package and rinse it well. Place on a large cutting board and slice crosswise into sections of about 2 inches each. Cut away the extra fat from the oxtail. There is a significant amount of fat that can be removed.
Using either Sea Salt (my preference) or Kosher Salt, use a sufficient amount to rub into the meat on all sides. Place this in a container and let it set at room temperature for about 2 hours, or if you have time and prefer place in the refrigerator overnight.
After the meat has set, remove and rinse well. This must be rinsed very well to get the salt off the meat (I made the mistake of not rinsing well enough the first time I made this, and the results were nearly inedible).
Over medium high heat, place oil into a large oven-proof pot which has a lid.
NOTE: You can use a slow cooker (crock pot) if desired, and cook this overnight with excellent results. When this just begins to smoke, quickly sauté the garlic until it has a small amount of browning to the pieces.
Add your oxtail slices, and brown on all sides. You are just going to sear the outer meat without cooking it at this time.
Add your beef broth, balsamic vinegar, and enough red wine to cover the top of the meat by approximately 1 inch. Add the Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano and Tarragon. Mix well.
Cover your pot and put into the oven to cook for the next 3 to 4 hours, or until the meat is tender enough to fall from the bone. Check your meat several times over the course of cooking to make certain there is enough liquid, add more wine when needed. If using a slow cooker, leave on low overnight.
When your meat is done, in either the oven or the slow cooker, add your sliced leeks by spreading over the top. Cook for another 30 minutes in the oven, or increase your slow cooker to high heat for the remaining time.
The sauce should form a thick caramelized sauce in the pot which can be served with the meal as gravy. The fat should be skimmed off this sauce before serving.
Many people do not like the bones in their Oxtails, so if you prefer you can remove these by pulling any meat from them.
*I use a Malena Garnacha for this recipe. The Torres Malena Garnacha makes a good one, as it is not expensive and is good enough to serve alongside the dish. Remember when you are cooking with wines, if you won’t drink it, then you don‘t want to eat it in your cooking either. Unless you just do not like to drink wine, the wine you use should always be one that you would drink yourself or serve to others. Taste matters!