Oxtail? Seriously?

When I was first introduced to oxtail by a Jamaican friend of mine, my initial response was one distinctly lacking enthusiasm. “The tail?” I said. “Seriously? Ewwww.” I mean, when you look at a beef cow, the tail is usually covered in … stuff. Usually, dried, caked-on stuff. Not exactly a sight to get your salivary glands going.

However, as I researched this article, I realized that was just my myopic Canadian diet speaking. Oxtail is actually quite a common ingredient; a quick online search brings up recipes from around the world.

The LA Times published a Coles Notes history on oxtail:

In the Old World, and for a period of time in our history, oxen (castrated bulls) were used as beasts of burden. They were a lot easier to handle whenever a female passed by, as the result of surgery. They were not slaughtered for food until they had outlived their usefulness as beasts of burden. Only then was it discovered that oxen not only were easier to handle when they were alive but had a better flavour when they were eaten. As a result of that discovery, we continue to castrate young male beef animals even though we no longer use them as beasts of burden. However, we no longer call them oxen, we call them steers–except for the tails, which we still call oxtails. We also use the term oxtail to designate the tail of all beef animals–cows, bulls and heifers.

The secret to cooking with oxtail is time. As the meat is quite gelatinous, it needs time to break down into the fall-off-your-fork food you want to be serving.

In today’s blog, Red Table Chef Matt Chandler shares his take on Braised Oxtail with Creamy White Beans.

FOR THE OXTAIL MARINADE

  • 3-4 shallots, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2-3 whole star anise
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half
  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 4-5 Bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Use a pan or dish that will allow you to spread the oxtail out evenly. Season the bottom with black pepper, thyme sprigs, rosemary sprigs, garlic, shallots, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Set the oxtail on top and repeat for the top as well. Make sure the oxtail is coated with the olive oil, herbs and shallots. Place plastic wrap on top, touching the oxtail and leave it in the fridge for 3-4 hours or overnight.

To cook:

Heat a large skillet or heavy bottom pan/pot (I use my 5 quart Le Cruset) and sear the oxtail on all sides. When they are caramelized to golden brown, take them out and set them aside, keeping the heat on the pan. Add all of the marinade garnishes and deglaze with a bottle of red wine. Reduce the wine down by half, and add enough chicken stock to sit just under the tops of the oxtails. Cover the pan, place it in the oven at 300 degrees for about 2.5 hours – 3 hours, until the oxtail is tender. Let them cool down in the liquid, do not take them out; as soon as they come out of the oven, it will dry them out considerably.

Once they’ve cooled and rested, take them out of the pan and reduce the braising liquid down until it’s a thicker, glossier jus. Reserve the jus and oxtail until ready to serve.

FOR THE WHITE BEANS

4 cups of white beans

1 yellow onion, minced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 Bay leaves

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 cup of white wine

4 cups of chicken stock

1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme

½ cup 36% cream

¼ cup of oxtail jus to finish

You can soak the white beans overnight in lots of cold water while the oxtail is marinating.

To cook, sweat down the onions and garlic in olive oil until they’re translucent (make sure they don’t get any colour on them). Add the Bay leaves and white beans, coating them in the olive oil, onions and garlic. Add the white wine, reducing by half. Add the chicken stock all at once, bring to a boil and then turn down and simmer gently (with the lid on) until the beans are tender. Take the lid off of the pan and allow the stock to cook down until it’s thickened up. Add the freshly chopped thyme, oxtail jus, cream and it’s ready to serve.

Place the white bean ragout in the middle of the plate, set the oxtail on top and ladle over the jus.

This dish is great with just the white beans and oxtail, but if you wanted to serve a vegetable as well, some lightly blanched and buttered rapini is a great side.

Jeannette Giesbrecht
Red Table’s food blogger, Jeannette Giesbrecht, has written for a number of newspapers and lifestyle magazines, including Lethbridge Magazine and Kelowna Magazine. Her favourite comfort food is a medium-rare ribeye steak with a Caesar salad and a glass of Malbec.