Traditionaly speaking an ox is a bovine animal (cow) that has been trained as a draft animal. Draft animals are large, strong, and hardy beasts that were used to pull heavily loaded carts great distances and massive plows through dense earth. Like for example down the Oregon trail. So logically one would think that an oxtail would be from one of these massive creatures. And I guess that in some places they probably still are. But these days when the majority of you buy oxtails they're just butchered cow tails, probably from a steer or other beef cow. But all of this naming nonsense aside, oxtails or beef tails if you prefer are a vastly under-appreciated meat. The meat is dense and flavorful, and if treated properly you will have some of the richest most flavorful sauce you've ever tasted. It takes a little work to coax the awesomeness from them, but I assure you it's worth it.
1. Get all your ingredients for stewed oxtails together. The basic idea behind this dish is that only after several hours of stewing will these oxtails be any good to eat. So we need to choose ingredients that, when reduced considerably, won't be overpowering. And reserve any strong flavors for addition at the very end of cooking. The stewed oxtail recipe is to the right and the process in detail below.
2. Season the oxtails with salt and pepper and brown them. If your oxtails have large deposits of fat that you can easily remove without cutting any meat out, go ahead and remove it. But don't worry about the smaller bits. Season them with salt and pepper and heat up the soup pot or braising pan on medium-high heat. If you have some bacon fat on hand melt that in the pan, otherwise use two tablespoons of butter. Fry the oxtails until they are dark brown on all sides.
3. Take the oxtails out of the pan and fry the vegetables. The pan should still have enough oil in the bottom to fry the minced carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. After a couple minutes they should be getting soft and translucent. Keep frying them until they start to brown a little. Then mix in the two to three tablespoons of tomato paste and fry for a couple more minutes. This will help make the finished sauce darker and boost its flavor.
4. Add the liquids to the vegetables in the pan. Add the chicken stock, red wine, and water. Stir and scrape off any stuck-on stuff on the bottom of the pan. . The chicken stock I used was some that I had made a few weeks before and put in the freezer. Homemade chicken stock makes a big difference if you have the time. I used chicken stock instead of beef stock to keep from overpowering the oxtail flavor. Plain vegetable stock would work well too.
5. Add the oxtails back to the pan. Lay the browned oxtails back in the pan and toss the mushrooms on top. Dump in any liquids that have collected at the bottom of the plate the oxtails were on, too. The mushrooms should have been cleaned, either by brushing them or washing them. Trim a little of the stem off, but not all of it, just the very bottom. Put the lid on once you achieve and maintain a mild simmer.
6. Stew the oxtails for two to three hours. Stew with the lid on for the first two hours of cooking. Periodically check to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan. After two hours, check the oxtails to see if the meat is fork-tender. That means you can pull it apart with a fork. If it is, remove the lid and continue cooking to reduce the liquid until it's nice and thick. Then turn off the heat and adjust the salt and pepper levels. Serve over noodles or potatoes.
Call around to butcher shops ahead of time to see if they have oxtails in stock. Sometimes they can be found in the freezer section.
If you don't have bacon fat on hand, start saving it when you cook bacon. Just pour it into a sealable container and store it in the fridge for up to six months. It's a great way to add a little smokey flavor to a dish without having to add bacon. But for today butter will suffice.
Try making your own stocks and keeping them in the freezer. The first time you have homemade stock, you won't even think about using store-bought stuff again.
The mushrooms I use are baby bellas, also known as crimini mushrooms. And even though I have heard that washing mushrooms is bad, I just can't stomach the idea of eating pasteurized horse manure. Which is what they grow them on and therefore is the "dirt" stuck to them when we get them home. So I wash my mushrooms.
If you want, you could reduce some balsamic vinegar until it's as thick as syrup and drizzle it over each plate.