New Recipe: Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Oxtails

New Recipe: Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Oxtails

Oxtails are popping up on restaurant menus around the country, but this classic soul food star is nothing new in the American South. This decadent recipe is flavored with savory pancetta fat and spicy chipotles for layer upon layer of braised goodness.

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For a simple oxtail recipe with amazing results, try this recipe for Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Oxtails. It requires only a few steps, but lots of patience ... about 4 hours of patience. Don't worry, the results are worth the time! From holidays to Sunday dinner, whether it's family or friends you're feeding, these oxtails are sure to please any crowd around your table.

For a long time, oxtails were America’s best kept culinary secret. While the rest of the world knew of this cut of meat's rich deliciousness and made it a staple in their kitchens, mainstream America lagged behind. Oxtails have long been celebrated by African-American households in the American South, but are now en vogue on tables and in restaurants around the country.

What are oxtails?

Yes, it really is a cow's tail. Eating oxtails for food came about as a result of the days of "whole animal" eating: No part of the cow was wasted, though the unsavory parts (such as oxtails) were considered poor peoples' cuts. While historically oxtail was a cheap piece of meat, that's changed now that popular chefs and foodies have discovered them.

When prepared by a butcher, oxtails are chopped into sections, each with bone and some marrow in the center. Gelatinous pieces of meat surround the bone (and is where all that meaty goodness can be found). Oxtails can be found in packages containing different sizes of cuts: Cuts from closest to the rest of the cow are bigger and meatier than the thin end pieces, which are mostly bone.

How do you cook oxtails?

Whatever reservation you may have had about eating tail meat, one bite will help you get over it! Oxtails are both tender and fatty, and get even better as they cook. The longer, the better, in fact.

Their gelatinous quality and beefy bones make oxtails a versatile ingredient for use in several different types of cooking. Common in cuisines from around the world (including Asian, Caribbean, Southern African American, and Italian), oxtails are typically cooked using long, slow cooking techniques such as braises or oxtail stews. If you're familiar with cooking beef short ribs, the process is very similar so much so, that you can easily convert the more popular braised short rib recipes into ones for oxtails by swapping the meat. The same holds true for hearty beef stew recipes. And if you’re a fan of crockpots/slow cookers, oxtails are a perfect match.

Braised oxtails are usually cooked slowly in a flavored liquid (often a combination of beef stock and red wine or beer) and some mix of sautéed aromatic vegetables, such as onions, celery, and peppers. When cooked for 3-4 hours, these preparations result in oxtails with deep, complex flavors. And the reduced braising liquid created is as good as the oxtails themselves!

Oxtails used in soups or stews are best paired with vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and/or any other root vegetables that can stand up to the long stewing times. The resulting body and flavor in the broth from the oxtail's collagen are unmatched.

Where can I buy oxtails?

Oxtails are commonly sold in ethnic (Asian, Caribbean, Hispanic, African American) markets. You can sometimes find them in larger grocery stores and chains, but likely not in great quantities. Check both the frozen and refrigerated meat sections: More often than not they’ll be in the latter section, but in some specialty stores like Whole Foods, you may find them in the former. Walmart and Costco are likely to have reasonably priced oxtails. If you buy your meat directly from a butcher, most butchers will be happy to reserve them for you if you give them a heads up.

What do you serve with oxtails?

Most people just eat oxtail meat right off the bone. If cooked properly, the meat will be super tender and pull easily from the bone. Ultimately, oxtails are just another cut of beef, so you can use them like you would any other fatty beef cuts. You can pull the meat off the bones and serve with mashed potatoes or other mash vegetables, polenta, rice, or pasta. My personal preference is just chewing them right off the bone ... Just make sure to have napkins on hand.

Oxtail Cooking Tips

  • For beginners, braising is the most fail-proof cooking method (and, frankly, the most satisfying).
  • Plan for a minimum of 3 hours cook time at 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Season the braising liquid liberally.
  • Brown the oxtails before braising them. Be mindful not to crowd the pot too much, as this will create steam at the expense of the more flavorful caramelization you're after. Brown the oxtails in batches if necessary to get a good sear.
  • Make the oxtails a day or two ahead of time. They keep well in the refrigerator and taste better with time.
  • Don’t break the bank with your wine selection for cooking: Choose a good value red wine that you enjoy drinking.
  • For overly fatty oxtails, you can trim off some of the fat before you start cooking or stop to skim off the rendered fat about an hour into the cooking time.
  • Reserve the leftover gravy for use with biscuits or over rice. It's delicious!

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Making the Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Oxtails Recipe

The depth and complexity of flavor in this dish is partly achieved through the use of two secret ingredients. The first is pancetta bacon (but feel free to use regular bacon), which I fry in my Dutch oven pot. After removing the bacon (it's just the fat you're after), brown the oxtails in batches in the fat remaining in the pot. Browning is an essential step to start developing flavor, so take the time to brown each side.

After browning, remove the oxtails, then get your ‘mirepoix’ of celery, onions, garlic, and carrots sautéing for a few minutes. From there, this recipe skews somewhat Mexican with a few ingredients: chipotle peppers (my second secret ingredient) plus some cumin and coriander, which all get added to the sautéed vegetables.

After this, you continue adding additional layers of flavor with the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, red wine, and stock. After adding the red wine, be sure to deglaze the pan (that is, use the liquid to help loosen up all the cooked bits in the bottom of the pan, scraping with a spoon). This adds flavor! All there's left to do now is just wait three to four hours. Use the time to binge watch your favorite show or get some chores done.

More Braised Oxtail Tips and Tricks

  • This recipe can easily be converted to a slow cooker using the high setting. Just brown your oxtails in a pan first and then transfer to slow cooker, then do the same for your mirepoix of sautéed onions, celery, carrots, and garlic.
  • If you like, you can puree a whole 7-ounce can of chipotles in adobo sauce in place of the measured sauce and two chilis. However, beware as the seeds will add some heat to the dish.
  • For a thicker sauce, add some flour or corn starch to the braising liquid and stir before adding the oxtails back into the pot.