There are many instances where I eat/make things that would be considered unwise for a more metabolically sedate person, and I find this both amusing and delicious. I have decided to share with you (my random visitors) my culinary adventures so that you may be informed about unique, enjoyable edibles. Today’s post is Braised Ox Tails.
Oxtails have nothing to do with oxen, but are just tails of normal cows. They’re physically just hunks of meat wrapped around tail vertebrae. Culinarily, they have the potential to be the most tender, buttery smooth pieces of meat on the animal because of the fat content and the presence of bone and connective tissue. When cooked for long periods of time, the meat just about falls off the bone without being tough at all, and the cartilage bits on the bone become gelatinous and delicious.
My journey, taken with my friend Matt, began by chopping up the vegetable base of the stew. We were following the instructions of a generic recipe without any regard to the proportions given in the ingredient list. We cut up a couple of russet potatoes, a Vidalia onion, a bag of carrots, and minced about half a head of garlic.
The oxtail pieces were dredged in flour, salt, and pepper before being seared in the bottom of a pot for 3 minutes per side. The oxtails gained a delicious looking crust that we probably would have eaten on the spot, had blood/protein-fluid not been oozing up through the meat. (In Good Eats language, some serious cellular damage had been done. Oops.)
We sweat the garlic and onions directly in the same pan afterwards, as not to waste the delicious bits left over from the searing. After we got the onions translucent and the garlic slightly browned, we added in a full can (~3.5 cups) of crushed tomatoes and the meat. A few bay leaves and gratuitous amounts of italian seasoning were thrown in as well. Water was added to cover, and a dash of cooking wine was poured in to leech out any alcohol-soluble flavors. If we had cheap red wine, we would have used that instead.
At the conclusion of “Phase 1” (2 and a half hours of simmering), we threw in the potatoes and carrots for another hour of cooking. It finally started looking like a proper meal. When it was all done, we fished out the bay leaves, and pigged out. While I had my doubts at the beginning of this mini-adventure, the results were pleasantly surprising. I found myself gnawing cartilage caps off the ends of the bone segments, and mashing up the vegetables with some rice for a delicious stew-like accompaniment.
If I had the oxtails and the time to make this again, I would do so in a heartbeat. While it’s similar to some other stewed/braised meat dishes out there, there is certainly something unique about a big flavorful hunk of meat you can bite into, and still inhale. Oxtail is no second-tier scrap meat. It has its own delicious quirks that everyone ought to give a chance.