The first time I made oxtail stew I was living in San Francisco. I had an intense job* and about one day off a week. It was the late 1980s. I remember my favorite suits had gigantic shoulder pads... oh gawd, I was sooooo 80s.
One Sunday, I decided to make oxtail stew. The 'tails had to braise for about four hours. I wasn't a particularly competent cook (and kind of a stoner) so I braised the oxtails on the stove, rather than in the oven. I had a crappy little studio --with a Murphy bed -- in the Civic Center neighborhood of San Fran. And it had a crappy little stove. The oven was OK, it had two temps. On and off. The stove was really difficult to adjust, a low flame was almost impossible.
To make a long story short, I fell asleep and four pounds of oxtails burned to a charcoal mess on the stove.
Not only was I hungry, but I was mad as hell -- at myself. I've only made oxtails a few times since. I love low-and-slow cooking but I continue to be seduced by other tough cuts of meat like short ribs, pot roast and the like.
But, today, oxtails I have -- so oxtails I will cook.
To be clear, they should be called 'steertails.' They come from steer -- beef on the hoof -- not oxen. I imagine ox to be rather tough. But I don't know.
The only thing that makes this African is the addition of a legume -- in this case garbanzo beans.
African-esque oxtail stoup (stew/soup)
3 pounds oxtails
1 ea onion, peeled and rough chopped
14 ounces chopped tomatoes (or a can of diced, salt-free tomatoes)
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
2 cups stock. I used chicken stock because I have lots of fresh stock but if I'd had it, I'd have used beef stock.
1 - 4 cups water (The liquid should come up to the top of the tails, you want a brothy swim for the meaties, so add water accordingly)**
1/2 cup red wine
3 ea bay leaves
(I added some thyme sprigs but I'm pretty sure they don't have thyme in Africa)
1 can Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
Prepare to multitask.
Sear tails and veg in one saute pan, heat stock and tomatoes in your fav braising vessel.
Liberally salt and sear the tails in OO until lovely and brown. Remove from pan. Saute onions and carrots. Deglaze the pan with wine. Heat stock and tomatoes in a dutch oven or heavy-bottom stock pot (your fav braising vessel).
When the stock and tomatoes come to a boil, add the browned tails, onion, carrot and wine with deglazed meaty bits. Add enough water to bring the liquid level equal to the top of the tails. See photo above.
Simmer for one hour. At this point, you're probably getting really hungry and the tails are smelling pretty darned delicious.
With cuts like this -- ham hocks, ox tails -- I speed up the cooking process by cutting the tough membranes and sinew holding the muscle to the bone. I do this with a tongs and scissors. If I had three hands (or a prehensile tail) (which would be AMAZING) I'd take a photo. But I don't have a tail so you'll have to take my word for it. Snip between the chambers of the tails, with the scissors perpendicular to the center bone.
Simmer for another hour. Sorry, but you gotta do it.
It may need another 30 minutes.... if the meat is still tough, let it go. Add the drained garbanzo beans right before serving.
Happy Tails to You.
* I was the publicist for the San Francisco Ballet for about a year.
** Believe me, the broth will be plenty flavorful. Water is OK.