Oxtail, a tough gelatinous cut of meat that was a favourite for stews and soups, has had an interesting cycle when it comes to fashionable eating. Our ancestors knew all about nose to tail eating and everything was used. They were very aware that once the prime cuts were sold there was plenty of meat left on an animal as long as you were prepared to wait while it cooked. This long slow cooking rendered it every bit as tasty as the rib. Not only did they use the tough but meaty areas of shin, shoulder and tail areas, offal was also on the menu. Again there was a nutritious value to every part of the animal and they knew it. Kidney, liver heart and stomach were all considered food and not waste.
Historically many of our best animals or meat were exported and long before refrigeration, the animals would be taken to Irish ports and slaughtered near or on the docks for export. For this reason port towns and cities would have a very strong tradition in offal and the tougher cuts such as oxtail. Once the prime cuts were butchered and prepared for export, the leftovers would have been discarded or sold at a very low price, making them very popular with the masses. Those that worked on the port and, back then, it would have been a substantial employer, and those that worked around it would have had access to all these delicious wonders. While we talk about it as if it were ancient history, there are plenty of people still alive today that would remember these times quite clearly or at least would have been children during those years. Also the methods of cooking these cuts would have been passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. There was no such thing as buying the ’One Hundred Things to do with a Kidney’ back then.
Meanwhile the rest of the world was also acutely aware of the value of the leftover bits. In every country where animals were reared, from Asia, New Zeland and mainland Europe you will find tremendous recipes for all the interesting parts of an animal that our generation largely turned our noses up at. While we did become more prosperous and could afford the more expensive cuts of meat the other issue was time. If you had a job outside of the home suddenly it was impractical to make dishes that took hours of long slow cooking, we needed convenience and so the idea of speeding everything up began in ernest.
Today the trend for nose to tail eating is back; fed in part by economics, in part by environmental concerns and, ironcially, also fed by our constant appetite for something ‘new’. Oxtail is one of those ‘new’ things. It is highly fashionable on restaurant menus and there are many interesting approaches to oxtail that are influenced from abroad. Did you know that oxtail is huge in Hawaii. All over Hawaii you will find a traditional oxtail soup. While we know oxtail soup to be thick and beefy in Hawaii it is a broth elevated with spices such as orange, star anise, ginger, onions and fresh corriander. So straight away it doesn’t have to be a heavy winter dish, it can be light and fresh and suitable for the heat. Oxtail also stars in Italian and Korean cuisine.
When the tail is taken from the cow (not necessarily just an ox) it is skinned and cut into sections. There is alot of bone and fat but when cooked slowly these elements give up a flavour that is superb. And don’t be afraid to experiment with the liquid and spices. Try wine or beer instead of water add in some non traditional herbs and spcies and watch the dish sing. Oxtail is also a great meat to use in a slowcooker or a pressure cooker, both are pieces of kitchen kit that are enjoying a huge revival in popularity.
One of the most interesting things I came accross recently in my search for oxtail recipes was a Spicy Asian Soup. Here is the recipe.
- 1 kg Oxtail pieces
- Olive oil to fry in
- 200 ml white wine
- 4 tblsp of light soy sauce
- 1 tblsp brown sugar
- 1 and a half Pints of beef stock
- A decent size piece of root ginger, peeled and chopped
- One chilli (with or without the seeds)
- A star anise
- Zest of a whole lime
- A chunk of lime peel
- zest of half an orange
- juice of half an orange
Preheat the oven to 170. In an oven proof pan heat the oil and brown the oxtail on all sides. Remove the meat and drain the oil from the pan but don’t clean it out completely. Return the pan to the heat and deglaze with the wine, letting it reduce to about half stirring all the time to pick up the stray bits of oxtail. Return the oxtail and all the other ingredients to the pan, holding back half pint of beef stock. Cover the pot and put it in the oven for 3 to 4 hours, checking it every hour or so and spooning the juices over the meat. When the meat is falling off the bone, remove, allow to cool and place in the fridge overnight.
The next day remove all the solidified fat from the top. Add the extra beef stock that you held back and gently reheat. When the meat is hot remove as much as you can with a slotted spoon to a warm plate and cover with foil, then boil the sauce until reduced by half. Remove the star anise before pouring it back over the meat and serve. This also freezes really well so you can make it in advance.
There are also some great oxtail recipes in both my books, An Irish Butcher Shop and the Irish Beef Book. Check out our website or drop in to our store where we will be more than happy to talk you through simply cooking an oxtail for flavour and nutrition at fantastic value.