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The best known way of cooking oxtail is probably oxtail stew, a dish that has many variations but basically consists of oxtail that has been slowly simmered in broth with aromatic vegetables and seasonings. Although it is thought of as a somewhat old-fashioned meal, cooking oxtail and other parts of the cattle that are often discarded has been becoming more popular as people look for more affordable food sources. When cooking oxtail, it is important to choose meat that is red or pink rather than gray or brown and has some fat but not too much. Oxtails are bony, and the meat is tougher than steaks or chops, so slow braising or stewing are some of the best ways to cook them for a tender and flavorful end result. Before adding any cooking liquid, the oxtail should be browned thoroughly in hot oil to caramelize it and develop the flavor.
The oxtail originally came from oxen, but today in the United States would actually be the tail of a beef cow or steer. The two are similar, however, in taste, appearance, and texture. It is usually the same shape as a beef tenderloin, somewhat long and cylindrical, but has large, thick bones and the meat is much more fibrous. Before cooking oxtail, a butcher usually trims some of the fat and cuts it into smaller chunks, because the tail is very bony and can be difficult to cut apart with home kitchen knives. If the oxtail is being sold whole, the shopper can ask for this preparation to be done. It is also important to make sure the meat is pink or red, with no foul odor or other signs of spoilage.
Cooking oxtail is best done by stewing or braising, which are both done by immersing the meat in broth or water and seasoning and cooking on the stove top or in the oven for several hours. The liquid and seasonings help the meat to fall off of the bone and tenderize it. Another good tip when cooking oxtail is to brown it on all sides, which is done by heating oil on the stove in a large heavy skillet and cooking the meat on all sides before adding the cooking liquid. Cooking oxtail can also be done in a slow cooker or pressure cooker, both of which are excellent ways to tenderize cuts of meat that can otherwise become tough. When the dish has finished cooking, the oxtail should be removed from the liquid and taken apart from the bones.
Oxtail stew is the best known dish that uses this cut of beef, but there are many other ways of cooking oxtail. The cooked meat can be used in a tomato sauce and served over pasta. It can also be breaded and baked for a short time in the oven or grilled for a few minutes to caramelize the outside.