Ocean City Today

Oxtail stew over mashed potatoes

Food For Thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | Sep 07, 2017


printed 09/08/2017


Oxtails have been a culinary craze for some time; but does one specifically know what they are?

Understanding the origin of oxtails requires knowledge of history as well as an understanding of the classification according to the sex as it applies to beef cattle.

Let us start with the basics so complete comprehension is understood. Beef categorization includes the meat of cows, bulls, heifers and oxen. Cows are the mature females of the bovine species, bulls are the adult males, heifers are the young females that have never given birth and oxen are the castrated males.

According to Thereby Hangs a Tale on the Origin of Oxtails, “In the Old World and for a period of time; oxen were used as beasts of burden. They were a lot easier to handle whenever a heifer 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 it was discovered that oxen not only were easier to handle when they were alive but had a better flavor when they were eaten. As a result of the discovery, young male beef animals are continued to be castrated even though we no longer use them as beasts of burden.”

Today the term “oxen” has been replaced with “steers.” The tail of a steer is referred to an oxtail. In reality, oxtails include the tail of all beef animals: cows, bulls and heifers.

The tail is skinned and cut into sections; each section has a tailbone with marrow in the center, and a bony portion of meat surrounding the tail. The meat is gelatinous and is best used for soups, stocks and braises.

Oxtail is sold either whole or in sections. Since oxtail is really a tail, it is thick at one end and thin at the other, so you will get some pieces that are meatier than others. Harris Teeter sells frozen oxtails at $4.99 a pound.

Oxtails are ideal for making stock. In fact, they happen to make the most flavorful beef stock. This stock can be the basis for oxtail soup which includes meat, vegetables, herbs and sherry.

Braising is another preferred method of cooking. Slow cooking turns the bone and cartilage into a gelatin that is rich in flavor and makes a delectable sauce. This dish does take a long time to cook; allow the oven to do the hard work.

Braised oxtails yield a much better tasting dish if they are cooked in wine. Following are a few tips to ensure proper usage when cooking with wine. Only use wines in your cooking that you would drink. Taking this point even further, never use those so-called cooking wines. These wines are typically salty and include other additives that might affect the taste of your chosen dish.

One might ask why cook with wine in the first place. Wine has three main purposes in the kitchen: a marinade, a cooking liquid and a flavoring component. The function of wine in cooking is to intensify, enhance and accent the flavor of food.

The alcohol in the wine evaporates while the food is cooking and only the essence remains. Be careful not to use too much wine as the flavor could overpower your dish. In addition, if wine is added late in the preparation, it could impart a harsh quality.

Cooking with wine is great for adding acidity to rich dishes. It is important to note that fat enriches wine sauces. If a wine based sauce is a bit sharp, simply swirl in a little butter to smooth it out.

Gourmands are rediscovering oxtails in new ways to the delight of nostalgic patrons and offering exciting choices for young chefs. The following oxtail stew recipe calls for the oxtails to simmer in a bouquet of tomatoes, red Zinfandel and aromatics until they are wonderfully tender.

Serve the rich stew over mashed potatoes. Warm, crusty bread and a glass of full-bodied red wine are the perfect accompaniment. Enjoy!

Oxtail Stew


1 oxtail (cut into 1 ½ inch slices)

extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 leek, white part only, thoroughly cleaned and chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 celery stalks (including the leaves), chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

5 large cloves garlic, minced

2 rounded tablespoons all-purpose flour

10 whole baby portabellas

3 teaspoons each dried thyme and crushed rosemary

4 bay leaves

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 (28 oz.) can whole plum tomatoes

1 ½ cups Zinfandel red wine

3 cups beef stock

2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 rounded teaspoons concentrated veal demi-glace

2 cups cold water

few dashes of Worcestershire sauce

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a large roasting pan in the oven to preheat.

2. Place cleaned oxtails in a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and place the oxtails on it. Cook for 20 minutes or until meat is golden and caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

3. Meanwhile, add 6 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks, onions, celery, carrots, garlic and continue cooking for another 20 minutes.

4. Add flour and mix with the vegetables.

5. Strain the can of tomatoes and add the juice to the Dutch oven. Remove the seeds and tough ends of the tomatoes. Coarsely chop and again add to the Dutch oven.

6. Add the mushrooms, dried herbs, bay leaves, cloves, wine, stock, butter, demi-glace, water, oxtails and any pan juices. Cover and place in the oven for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

7. Carefully remove Dutch oven from the oven. Place pan on top of the stove and remove lid. Turn the heat to medium-low and allow stew to reduce. Discard bay leaves and pork cheek. Skim most of the fat from the surface. Add a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

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