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Monday, 3 June 2013

"Where on the cow does ox tail come from?"

Recently a customer asked me a sincere question after requesting a kilo of stewing steak and a kilo of oxtail. I had already put the stew in a bag when she asked “Excuse me. Which part of the cow does the oxtail come from?” To me that answer was obvious and I temporarily thought the question silly. Then I gave it some more thought. Perhaps the lady in question didn't equate the word Ox with bull or bovine. I told her it was meat from the tail and pointed to my coccyx. Thankfully the meat wasn't from the bull's willy!

Ox tails make the most flavoursome beef stock. For the most part, the robust beef flavour comes from the bones and marrow, but the red/purple coloured meat is also very tasty. The rendered stock will be thick and gelatinous due to the collagen released. It can be great with just a few pieces added to stewing beef during the cooking process.

Although ox tails are being used for much more than soup or stew nowadays, long, slow braising in a liquid is the preferred method to derive a tender result while drawing maximum flavour from what is pretty much all bones. Plan on a long cooking time. Ox tails work particularly well in casserole dishes or crock pots.

In days of old, ox tails did come from oxen, but today they are simply the tails of beef cattle of both genders. The consumption of ox tails dates back as far as the consumption of beef, when no part of the animal went to waste. Every part of the animal was utilized, and the tail made a wonderful hearty soup that stretched a small amount of meat with the addition of any variety of vegetables. Oxtail soup is a comfort food for many.

Cooks around the world have long made use of ox tails with variations on a theme. Today, up market chefs are rediscovering ox tails to the nostalgic delight of older patrons and the wonder of the younger crowd who consider it an exotic meat.

A quick browse on the internet brought up some interesting variations on what oxtail can be used for, namely:
  • Barbecued braised ox tail with red chilli beans

  • Braised ox tail with carrots and mushrooms

  • Jamaican ox tail stew

  • Oxtail and lentil soup

  • Oxtail pâté

  • Stewed ox tail oriental style

  • Spicy Vietnamese beef and noodle soup with ox tail.

  • Mom's ox tail ragout.
According to my Kenyan friend Dinah ox tail soup made from real pieces of ox tail tastes so much better than tinned ox tail soup. And she should know as she buys a lot of it.
From my butcher's knowledge of cutting up the raw ox tail you have to cut through the softer part of the tail joints to create a clean and easy cut and there is a skill in finding each joint to cut through. Otherwise the bone is most un-yielding and pretty much impossible to hack your way through.

1 comment:

Jean said...

My grandmother used to make a soup/broth with oxtail, which was a real treat. Back in the days when long, slow cooking of cheap cuts was the norm and people had less money but more time to do it.
I made it myself once, and now feel inspired to do it again, now that I have more time.
Which is why I find it so baffling that people with little money but plenty of time on their hands still buy relatively expensive and nutritionally dubious ready meals. (Judging by my observations of shopping trolleys and conversation in our local supermarkets.)
I wonder if my grandmother would have done the same if ready meals had been available in the 1950's.