The scraps, the trash, the inedible and worthless, the journey of oxtail.
Oxtails have become so popular that if you consider yourself in any way shape or form a foodie, it’s safe to assume you’ve heard of and/or had oxtail stew. Historically oxtails were considered offal and were always one of the cheapest cuts of meat that would fall in the same category as the tongue, cheeks and feet at the butchers. Patrons with financial means would go to the butcher shop to source the fine and prized cuts of meat like filets, t-bones and sirloins while discarding or leaving to the side the offal leaving the poor people to figure out a way to make them not only palatable but delicious.
The irony lives with how this dish transitioned from trash to fine dining. Specifically during the time of slavery, the creativity and cooking traditions carried from the homeland allowed for this stewing meat’s aroma to reach beyond the slave quarters and into the kitchens where we wouldn’t dare pass through.
Fast forward to the present day when Oxtails have almost quadrupled in price. The reason this meat is so delicious is the abundance of fat, connective tissue and collagen that it contains, thus the reason it has to be cooked for a long time. A stew or soup is an ideal method to break the meat down into what some describe as meat candy.
Many cultures have come to cook amazing dishes with this meat and though I may be biased, Jamaican oxtail stew remains one of the best and most coveted. Personally, I did not grow up on this dish eating oxtail stew despite being first generation in the states from Jamaica. I don’t know if my mother, who is a phenomenal cook, was tired of the dish by the time she came to the US or just lost the passion for it but by the time I became aware of it I was in my late teens and had already become a vegetarian. It wasn’t until, my my mid 30s when my meatless days had run its course did it dawn on me that I could finally try Jamaican oxtail stew and I gotta say I was excited.
I probably should have flown to Kingston for the most authentic experience but off to Brooklyn, the next best thing to Jamaica, I went. I kinda fell in love.
Since then and many oxtails later, I realize that with most things, you have different styles, taste, techniques, the good bad and ugly when it comes to a dish like this. Like pizza in NYC, its hard to find a bad slice but an amazing oxtail stew is something to be treasured when you do find one.
My recipe for this dish is a compilation of tips, tricks, flavors and textures that I have gathered over the years. I keep the important allspice berry because it wouldn’t be Jamaican oxtails without it. I omit the broad beans because I feel like the red kidney beans in the rice and peas that this dish is traditionally served with is enough beans.
Having a sous vide when making oxtail has been my most recent game changer. This machine allows an almost set it and forget it process for cooking meat such as oxtail. Cooking at a controlled temperature, for a longer period, breaks down all of the collagen and tissue perfectly for you. Using this method has produced the most delectable result and even if you only cook this dish once in awhile, it’s worth getting a sous vide machine for this alone. If that is not an option, no worries, a dutch oven or heavy bottom pot, a lid and the low and slow method we have always used is more than suitable.
- 4 Lbs of oxtail trimmed
- 1 kosher salt
- 1 tbsp ground allspice
- 2 tbsp Wah Gwan
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper or 2 tsp dried scotch bonnet powder
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups stock or water
- 2 tbsp monk fruit or sugar
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tbsp tomato ketchup
- 4-5 scallions
- 1 bunch of parsley
- 1 bunch of fresh thyme
- 1 bell pepper seeded and chopped
- 1 bulb of garlic peeled
- 1 medium onion
- 1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
Rice and Peas
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cups basmati rice rinsed
- 1 can red kidney beans with the liquid
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
- 1 scallion
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 small piece of ginger sliced
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 5-6 pimento seeds
- 1 tbsp salt
Take your oxtails and with a sharp knife trim any excess fat off of the outside of each piece.
Season oxtails generously with salt, allspice and Wah Gwan seasoning. Ideally let the oxtail sit overnight or at a minimum 4 hours.
Once set, dust the oxtail with flour.
In a heavy bottom pot or dutch oven over medium heat, add 2 tbsp vegetable oil and sear oxtails on all sides.
Remove the oxtails from the pan and set aside.
To the same pan add 4 heaping tablespoons of the Green Seasoning mixture. Saute, stirring continually for about 3 to 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan by pouring in the red wine.
Reduce the wine in the pan for 2-3 minutes, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock, stir and simmer for 2-3 minutes more.
Add the oxtails back to the pot the liquid should cover 3/4 of the oxtails but not completely submerged.
If you are not using the sous vide: Cover your pot, bring to a low simmer and cook for approximately 1 hour.
Sous vide instructions: Remove from the heat and prep your sous vide bag, pour the contents of the pot into the bag. Set heat of the sous vide to 167 and cook for 12-24 hrs. The longer the better. When finished, let the package cool down and you can set the oxtails in the fridge for a up to a week or in the freezer indefinitely.
At this stage pour your oxtails back into a pot over medium heat and bring up to temperature, add soy sauce, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. With your lid off, stir gently and to combine ingredients and reduce the sauce until thick. Continue basting and rotating oxtails to keep them moist.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Rice and Peas
In a saucepan over medium heat add olive oil, garlic, scallion and ginger. Saute for a minute then add water, coconut milk, bay leaf, thyme, scotch bonnet, all spice, pimento seed and kidney beans. Bring to a boil then add rice and stir.
Place a tight fitting lid on the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
Cook for 15 minutes then turn the heat off and let the rice rest for 10 more minutes.
Blend All ingredients together, place in an airtight container for storage.