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The meat surrounding the top of a cow's tailbone, the oxtail, is not the most prime cut of beef. Most primal beef charts do not even include it. Several cultures, however, have discovered, perhaps by necessity, that this cut of meat can taste delicious after a long and slow braising with the right key ingredients. A Jamaican oxtail is likely to be presented in a stew that is coursing with garlic, onions, peppers, beans and a traditional medley of seasonings to make a broth that can be sweet, tangy, salty and spicy all at once.
Finding oxtail cutlets is not a problem for most butchers who prepare beef. Since they can be mostly bone, with a thick padding of meat and fat around the outside, the weight will be several pounds to feed a family-size meal. Though this cut of meat can be pricey where beef is in higher demand, it is typically among the cheaper cuts of any livestock. Cuts from the heftiest cows are likely to produce the most sumptuous Jamaican oxtail stew.
After trimming off excess fat and a rubbing the cutlets in just salt and pepper, the meat is usually browned on all sides in a hot oiled pan. Many chefs also baste the meat for Jamaican oxtail stew, while it is searing in melted brown sugar, paprika and some water. This intensifies the browning effect and lends the meat a subtle sweetness. After browned, it is set aside while the beef stock is put together.
One rather-complicated recipe for Jamaican oxtail stew, at the New York Times online magazine, makes the broth by caramelizing chopped onion, scallions, peppers and garlic in a pot with ginger, allspice and thyme sprigs. Browned oxtails then go on top, followed by enough water to submerge all the ingredients. The simmering pot is covered to cook for an hour, then more fresh onions, garlic, scallions and ginger are added, along with some soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and sugar. After another covered hour of cooking, other ingredients like butter beans, flour and ketchup are added. The final product is typically served with rice.
Jamaican oxtail stew is just one of a handful of storied oxtail preparations around the globe. In China, ingredients like soy, rice wine, lemongrass, cloves and mushrooms are more likely to be most prevalent parts of the broth. A Brazilian dish called rabada serves up the braised oxtail in a marinade of the local sugarcane rum cachaca and lemon juice that is swimming with garlic, onions, carrots and watercress.
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