Our next-door neighbors are Jamaican, and have bought oxtails thru our farm co-op before; I asked, when the mom picked them up, how they cook them. And her answer greatly intrigued me. So here, I present an alternative to the classic (European? American?) oxtail soup. And highly GAPS-friendly to boot! (Because oxtails are so full of connective tissue and bone – actually, that’s pretty much all an oxtail is – there are tons of great collagen fibers just ready to be broken down into gelatin, and lots of minerals as well in the bones. Excellent gut-healing ingredients! In fact, they’ve got so much, that after chewing all the meat off these bones, I boiled them again for stock!)
1 oxtail, with plenty of fat and gristle-y tissue
1 spring onion, sliced (you could also use about ½ of a large onion and a scallion); you may want to add several more onions in the cooking process, depending on your fondness for onions.
5 cloves garlic, diced
1 ¼ cups (more or less if needed to surround the meat for marinating) chicken stock (almost burnt, if you’re needing to use that stuff up!)
1 teaspoon ground allspice (or 15 berries, ground, if you’ve got whole and aren’t lazy like me! I guessed that 2 t would be about what 15 berries would be … this could be totally off tho — but 2 t was definitely too much — so I would advise just 1. You can always make it with more next time if it’s not alspice-y enough for you.)
½ teaspoon cayenne, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (a whole, diced scotch bonnet pepper would be more appropriate, but this is what I subbed in)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (4 sprigs of fresh, if you’ve got it)
2 tablespoons fish sauce, if you’ve got it – I didn’t, and left it out
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (I use Braggs)
Beef tallow (a tablespoon or two, give or take depending on your pan)
½ lb cooked lima beans (optional)
- Remove oxtail from packaging, rinse if you think it’s necessary, and separate pieces from one another. The one I got, the joints were partially cut apart, but had a part of the muscle between each piece left intact, so I had to cut them apart. Sometimes they come fully segmented, tho.
- Fit pieces in marinating dish just barely large enough for everyone to squeeze in (or in a Ziploc bag, altho I’m trying to learn how to do marinades in non-plastic containers, as part of my ongoing, several-years-long crusade to rid my kitchen of plastic).
- Squish onion and garlic into the crevices between pieces as much as possible, and top with remainder. If you’re using fresh diced hot pepper, throw these in at this point as well.
- Mix about ½ cup stock with allspice, dried peppers (if using), thyme, and fish sauce (if using). Pour over the goodies in the dish/bag. If you’re using a bag, at this point you can squish everybody around to get everyone fully coated. Hence, I guess, the advantage of using petroleum products in cooking.
- If using a dish, however, you may need to add more stock to bring the marinade most of the way up the sides of the dish.
- And if using a dish, sprinkle a little salt on top of the whole thing (¼ teaspoon or so), to draw out moisture from the onions – so that they can better contribute to the happy marinade underneath them.
- Leave in the fridge for a day or so. Or freeze (probably necessary to use a bag, if you’re gonna do this) until you’re ready to use.
- About an hour or two before you’re ready to start cooking, mix the vinegar with a small amount of water, and sprinkle over top. This will start working on the bones, to break them down even better while cooking.
- Heat tallow in a pan on med-high heat. I used a shallow pan pictured here, but I would recommend one in which you can add water to actually cover the pieces, rather than just coming up their sides, as I realized too late!
- Remove meat from marinade, letting as much drip off into dish as reasonable.
- Quickly brown tail pieces in pan, turning them every 30 seconds or so to a new side. You don’t want to actually cook them, just develop a few crusty brown spots for flavor. Err on the side of less cooked rather than fully browned.
- Add marinade to pan, and top of with water to cover (or, in my case, as much as will fit in the pan). Turn heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and cover.
- Cook on low for a couple of hours, until meat is extremely tender, ideally falling off the bones. That means that all that wonderful collagen and cartilage has broken down completely! Check every once in a while to make sure it’s still gently simmering.
- Once meat is tender and falling off (or, in my case, tender enough and dinner time!!), raise the heat until sauce is bubbling vigorously. Scrape any browning from the bottom of the pan, and turn pieces in sauce regularly so they do not stick to the bottom.
- Simmer until sauce is reduced to pretty thick, so that when you scrap the bottom of the pan, you can see it for a moment before the sauce flows back in behind the spoon. This portion of the prep takes careful attention, because you don’t want anything to stick to the bottom of the pan for too long, lest it burn. It will get thick enough, tho, that you will be kind of surprised that it doesn’t have any flour in it to thicken.
- At this point, if you’re using the lima beans (we didn’t – legumes don’t like me and I feel similarly based on how badly they treat me), throw them in and stir them into the sauce; continue to cook until mixture is warmed through.
- Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. You may also want to add additional chopped fresh onion or scallion, and fresh thyme. If you can hold off long enough to put them in the pot before greedy fingers start attacking!
And serve! Don’t be modest eating these – oxtails are meant to be eaten with the fingers, as far as I’m concerned, just like BBQ ribs or fried chicken. There’s so much good stuff in them, but you’ve got to do some work to get at it!
Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives on Flickr Commons. Apparently this was one of a series of post cards that circulated in South Africa in the early 1900s to disparage the quality of Chicago packed meat products.
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