Dear Eric: My local meat market sells oxtails. I have no experience with them, but have heard, if prepared properly, that they can be very tasty. Would you have any recipes for oxtails, besides soup?
Dear Patricia: According to The New Food Lover’s Companion, the cut of meat known as oxtail once really did come from an ox. Today, though, the term refers to beef or veal tail.
To ready that tail for sale, it is skinned and cut, widthwise, into oval-shaped, shorter lengths. With a bone running down the centre of it, oxtail is not that meaty, but the meat is does have is rich and flavourful. It’s also very tough and requires long and slow simmering, stewing or braising to make it succulently tender.
The most famous dish made with this cut of meat is oxtail soup, where pieces of oxtail, sometimes seared first, are simmered with vegetables until the meat is very tender. The meat is then removed from the bone, shredded or cubed, and it and the cooking liquid are used to make the soup, which may also include such things as barley, herbs and alcohol, such as sherry.
But Patricia was looking for other ways to prepare oxtail. She has a number of ethically diverse options.
For example, a popular dish in Caribbean islands such as Jamaica is oxtail stew. It’s made by searing and then slowly stewing pieces of oxtail with tomato, beans, onion, hot peppers and flavourings, such as thyme, allspice and garlic. This stew is then often served with rice and peas.
I’ve also seen recipes for oxtail bourguignon, where pieces of oxtail replace the cubes of beef normally used in this French-style stew, which is enriched with wine, bacon, mushrooms, pearl onions and herbs.
If you like Chinese-style flavours, another preparation I’ve read about involves pieces of oxtail simmered until tender in an Asian-style broth made by combining beef stock, onion, soy sauce, garlic, star anise, ginger, brown sugar and hoisin sauce.
I could have provided a recipe for any one of the dishes above, but instead I’ve decided to share a recipe for my favourite way to prepare oxtail.
It’s called oxtail osso bucco, because pieces of oxtail replace the veal shank normally used in this tomatoey Italian-style dish flavoured with vegetables, wine, garlic and herbs.
Oxtail osso bucco is rich and rib-sticking and perfect for a cool winter night. Serve it with a green vegetable, such as steamed broccolini, and garlic mashed potatoes or saffron risotto (recipe included).
Oxtail Osso Bucco
The medium- to large-sized pieces of oxtail I used in this recipe averaged three inches in diameter. You’ll find oxtail for sale at some supermarkets and most standalone butcher shops.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 3 1/2 hours
Makes: four servings
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
8 to 12 medium- to large-sized pieces of oxtail (about 4 to 4 1/2 lbs)
• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp dried marjoram or oregano
1 bay leaf
1 (28 oz./798 mL) can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup beef stock
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 325 F. Place the flour in a bowl. Season the oxtail with salt and pepper, coat in the flour and set on a plate. Discard leftover flour.
Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high. Cook the pieces of oxtail, in batches, until richly browned on all sides, and then remove and place into a deep, 9-x-13-inch casserole.
Drain all but 1 Tbsp of the oil from the skillet. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the skillet and cook and stir four minutes.
Mix in the remaining ingredients, except parsley, and bring to a simmer. Pour this mixture over the pieces of oxtail.
Cover and bake in the middle of the oven 3 hours, or until oxtail is very tender. Serve 2 to 3 pieces of oxtail per person, topped with sauce from the casserole and sprinkled with parsley.
As the rice cooks in the stock and is stirred frequently, its starches release into the liquid. This creates an almost creamy sauce around the rice that in this case turns a lovely golden colour thanks to the saffron.
This risotto is a superb side dish for the oxtail osso bucco and adds colour to many other dishes such as white fish or chicken.
Preparation time: five minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Makes: 4-6 servings
1Ú2 tsp loosely packed saffron threads, crumbled
2 Tbsp boiling water
6 cups chicken stock
3 Tbsp olive oil
1Ú2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1Ú2 cups risotto rice (see Note)
1Ú2 cup dry white wine
1Ú2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
• salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place the saffron and boiling water in small bowl and steep for 10 minutes. Place the stock in a pot and bring to just below a simmer over medium-high heat. When there, reduce the heat to its lowest setting and keep the stock warm on the stove.
Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot set over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about three minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until it has a nutty, toasted aroma, about two minutes. Add the wine and the saffron and its liquid. Adjust the heat to bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until the wine is almost fully absorbed by the rice.
Add 1 cup of the stock, stir and cook until it is almost fully absorbed by the rice. Add the remaining stock 1Ú2 cup to 1 cup at a time, cooking and stirring until it is almost fully absorbed by the rice before adding the next portion.
Continue doing this until the rice is tender. You may not need all the stock.
(When done, the rice should be al dente, tender with some bite. The texture of the risotto should be a creamy mass with enough body to stand up slightly when scooped into a bowl or plate.)
When the rice is tender, remove it from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese, parsley and salt and pepper. Cover and let sit for a few minutes before serving.
Note: The best types of rice to use for risotto are stubby, short- or medium-grained varieties. Sometimes they are simply labelled risotto rice or Italian rice. You’ll also find specific varieties of rice excellent for making risotto, such as arborio.
Eric’s options: If you don’t wish to use or don’t have any saffron, prepare this recipe without it to make risotto bianco, or white risotto.
Eric Akis is the author of the hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.