Once regarded as little more than an off-cut, oxtail now sells for much the same money as high-end sirloin. Cook it our way and you’ll realize why. Spicy oxtail stew is one of the world’s truly great, slow cooked, one-pot dishes.
It’s strange how this happens. Foods that were once dirt cheap — and perhaps a little demeaned as poor man’s grub — become pricy delicacies. Oxtail is a prime example. It’s costly today because lots of people — and I mean lots — have discovered that it makes an outstandingly fine meal. As demand has soared, so have prices. Seems addicts still need their fix of oxtail stew.
It’s easy to see why. Spicy oxtail stew has flavor. Rich, deep flavor. Intensely beefy with a bite of cayenne pepper in a substantial, garlicky tomato sauce that’s mellowed by red wine, sweet baby onions, celery, carrots, cinnamon, paprika, and thyme.
So, come hungry and serve it with buttery potatoes. You’re in for a fabulously enjoyable treat. Maybe even the best one-pot meal you’ve ever made. Especially when it’s cold outside, spicy oxtail stew just hits the perfect culinary note.
Turn that leftover spicy oxtail stew into a delicious brothy oxtail soup
As if things weren’t fab enough, this can be a stew with two wonderful lives. Our recipe makes amply enough hearty stew for four hungry carnivores. Amply. That’s its first life.
It gets another life because you’ll almost certainly have enough leftovers to make a great oxtail soup. I put the recipe for this delicious leftover conversion into the recipe notes below. It’s more than enough motivation for me to make the stew in a brim-full, ten-pint, cast iron casserole pot. That’s a pretty big pot, and around a third of it will be filled with oxtail.
Choosing your oxtail
Oxtail is often sold ready-jointed in frozen packs. That’s just fine and that’s what I used. Ideally, you want pieces mainly about the diameter of a baseball.
These meaty numbers will probably be between one-and-a half to two inches thick. They’re usually accompanied in the pack by some much smaller, bonier pieces that come from closer to the tip of the tail. That’s also fine — it’s the nature of the beast. Just remember that the bones — big and small — are big flavor-contributors.
In a perfect world, your best bet would be to buy a similar mix of fresh oxtail from a butcher you trust.
Prepping the stew — the first steps are the key steps
There are two very different parts to cooking spicy oxtail stew. First, some careful browning. That’s then followed by a long slow, saucy cook in the oven. The browning of the oxtail is really important. That’s why I’m stressing it up front. Get this right and you’ll reap the rewards later.
The way to do it is in olive oil in the big iron casserole pot I mentioned before (with a good-fitting lid) set on a medium-high heat. It takes a bit of time and a fair amount of oxtail-turning to get a deep golden color all over the pieces, but it’s well worth the initial effort.
Spicy Oxtail Stew
- 4 red cayenne peppers finely diced seeds and all
- 5 1/2 pounds jointed oxtail fresh is best, but frozen is perfectly ok
- 6 ounces smoked Canadian bacon streaky, chopped into 1/3 inch dice
- 2 cans plum tomatoes 14 ounce cans, peeled and chopped
- 12 ounces cherry tomatoes halved
- 8 ounces tomato puree
- 12 baby pickling onions, top, tailed and peeled but left whole.
- 2 yellow onions peeled and roughly chopped
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and finely sliced
- 3 sticks celery chopped into 1/2 inch dice
- 6 medium carrots peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
- 250 grams medium sized brown mushrooms cut into 1/3 inch slices
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme.
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground paprika
- 4 bay leaves
- 500 ml dry red wine use something relatively inexpensive but that you’d be happy to drink
- 1 1/2 pints water
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
Browning the oxtail
- As I’ve stressed, this really matters. So, pat all the oxtail pieces dry with kitchen towel. Set that big cast-iron casserole pot (ten pint preferably) on a high heat and add three tablespoons olive oil.
- When the oil is just barely smoking, add half of the oxtail pieces and drop the heat to medium-high. Watch out here, there’s going to be a lot of hot sizzling and a fair amount of spitting oil.
- After two minutes, turn all the pieces and let them continue frying for another two minutes. This is a turn, fry, turn, fry process. What you’re aiming for is to get a deep, golden colour all over each piece. Once you’ve got that, remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Repeat the turn and fry process for the rest of the oxtail. Good. Now for the diced bacon. Add it all to the pot and fry on medium-high until it just begins to crisp a little. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Browning the vegetables
- Brown the vegetables in that lovely mix of oil and bacon fat that’s now in the pot. Add all the baby onions to the pot and fry on medium heat for about five minutes. Stir them a few times while they’re frying so that they start to take on some golden colour. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Now add the carrots, cherry tomatoes, and yellow onions. Continue frying on that medium heat for another five minutes. You might now need to add a little more olive oil. Give the pot a few regular stirs so that the onions, tomatoes and carrots just begin to pick up a little goldy colour. Then add the cayenne pepper, garlic, and the celery, and after a good stir, turn off the heat.
Preparing the stew
- Set the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Turn the pot’s heat back to medium-high and add the oxtail together with all the remaining ingredients except the browned baby onions and the mushrooms. Give the whole lot a good stir to combine everything, and as soon as it comes to boil turn off the heat. Give it a final stir, cover the pot with a sheet of heavy tin foil that comes about 1 1/2 inches down the sides of the pot and put on the lid.
- The pot now goes into the oven at 400F. After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 340F. Then, after another two hours at 340F, remove the pot from the oven, take off the lid and the foil, and add the browned baby onions and the sliced mushrooms. Give the pot a stir to mix in the onions and mushrooms. Also, now’s the time to taste the sauce and check if you think it’s salty enough. If not adjust to your taste.
- And while you’re there, if the stew’s perhaps looking as if it could do with some more liquid, well, why not add some more wine. Certainly won’t do any harm.
- Return the pot – this time uncovered – to the oven for another hour at 340F, then turn off the oven. Done.