What Exactly Is Oxtail and Why It's an Excellent Meat for Winter Dishes
If you have never cooked with oxtail, it might seem a bit scary, but I'm here to reassure you that it's delicious, budget-minded, and easy to work with. In other words, oxtail is a great cut to use all winter long. Get to know oxtail here and discover why it's a great cut to cook with (and find recipes to use it in).
What is oxtail?
This unusual cut is literally the tail of the cow cut into round segments that are usually about an inch thick. The meat lies in little pockets around the center bone, so butchers generally bundle those pieces in a packet that contains the pieces from one whole tail. Which means you'll likely get a variety of sizes to work with. Oxtail is really affordable, usually between $4-6 per pound cheaper than bone-in short ribs and nearly 1/3 to 1/2 the price of veal osso bucco.
What does oxtail taste like when cooked?
Many people erroneously think that oxtail is just used to add flavor and texture to things like pasta ragu or other sauces, and not for its own pleasures. I am not one of those people, and nor should you be! The meat of the oxtail, when prepared properly, is tender and succulent, similar to short ribs. There is a good amount of fat and collagen that melt into your dishes as oxtail cooks, which will give a wonderful round texture to sauces and that slightly sticky feel to the meat. And the bonus flavor from the bone marrow that will cook into your dishes make this cut one to really get to know and not be afraid of!
What to cook with oxtail
The fact that this cut is designed for long slow cooking like braising makes it one of my favorite things to work with in winter. I add whole oxtails to my chili recipe or ragu while it simmers, and then remove and shred the meat to add to the final recipe once it is tender. I use oxtail to make hearty beef barley and vegetable soups, which can taste a little thin when made with other cuts but get terrific richness from the oxtails.
If you love osso buco but find the traditional veal shank cuts a bit pricy, you can swap in oxtail to great effect. One of my other favorite oxtail recipes is from Chicago chef Gil Langlois: Braise oxtails in a combination of two parts rich beef stock to one part hoisin sauce until tender, then glaze with some of the sauce in a hot pan to make them sticky (and special!). Garnish with toasted buttered breadcrumbs, chopped roasted peanuts, and fresh mint. I love serving this recipe as an appetizer instead of cocktail ribs.
How to cook with oxtail
Any recipe you have for bone-in short ribs can be converted to an oxtail recipe; just remember that oxtails have a lot less meat on them, so the recipe will serve fewer people than the short ribs. Remember though, when serving oxtail at home for a main course, you don't need a ton of meat! It is very rich, so you can expect one large, one medium, and one small piece per person—which means one tail will serve 3-4 people as a main course.
Since the sizes are so varied in one tail, consider buying three or four at a time, then freeze in packages of large, medium and small cuts. I use the large ones for serving as a main course, the medium in sauces or stews, and save the little ones for appetizers.
Great recipes that feature oxtail
Ready to get started? Check out these 5 recipes that feature oxtails: