As the weather turns chillier, the appetite turns to heartier food. With that in mind, we cooked up oxtails bought from Blue Ribbon Meat Market, 426 N. Austin, an excellent place to source harder to find meat. Need oxtails, goose, rabbit, or turducken? Go to Blue Ribbon.
Let’s get one thing straightened out before we get any further into this: the meat labeled “oxtails” are no longer the tails of oxen. Oxen, like cows, are members of the bovine family, and the difference between oxen and cows is that oxen are always the male of the species, physically suitable for heavy labor and castrated to increase docility. Alas, with the advent of mechanized farming equipment, oxen are no longer necessary on farms, and so what we’re getting when we buy oxtails are cow tails. No biggie.
The tail of a bovine, whether ox or cow, gets lots of exercise. If you’ve spent any time on a cattle farm or a corporate feed lot, you know that the tail is always flicking about, usually swatting flies. The tail of cattle is muscle, connective tissue, and bone. Because tails are thin, they contain much connective tissue, and because the tail works so hard, the meat can be fibrous. What all this means is that oxtails need to be slow-cooked for a long time to soften up and become delicious (and edible).
Though oxtails used to be cheap meat (just like veal and short ribs), they are now expensive. At Blue Ribbon Meat Market, I paid a little over $8/pound, and there’s a great deal of bone in oxtails, which means the actual meat you get from a tail is relatively slight. Still, oxtails have been trending because they represent one of the more popular “fifth quarter” meats that have become part of modern head-to-tail cooking.
At our house, Carolyn cooked the ox tails in a Dutch oven, first browning the tails in oil then setting them aside; onion and garlic are then softened in the jus and the pot is deglazed with red wine. Then four tablespoons of tomato paste are added to four cups of beef broth, along with two bay leaves, sprig of rosemary, salt, and pepper. The ox tails then go back in the pot and the whole thing is brought to a boil, covered, and put in a three hundred degree oven for three hours. The key point here is that you need to cook the oxtails for a good long time at a low temperature to soften all the connective tissue.
The oxtails we had for dinner were soft and toothsome, with an unmistakably deep and meaty flavor, super juicy and wonderfully sloppy to eat, so incredibly good on a frosty night. As a bonus, the bones that cost over eight dollars a pound can be re-deployed to make broth for a rich soup…and thus further warm the body as the snow begins to fly.