What is Oxtail?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An oxtail is exactly what it sounds like: the tail of an ox. They are officially classified as offal, along with an assortment of organ meats, and like other offal, it has a long and illustrious culinary history. Oxtails can be purchased at boutique butchers and sometimes at a butcher's counter in a large market, depending on the regional taste for the meat. Once purchased, it may be used immediately or frozen for future use.

An oxtail segment.
An oxtail segment.

To prepare oxtails, butchers remove the tail of a cow while it is butchered and skin it. The tail is typically cut into segments, making it easier to handle. It is extremely bony and also very muscular, and it requires special care in the kitchen. The best way to use oxtail is as the base for a stew, soup, or beef stock, as it benefits from long gentle braising. Oxtail can also make a soup taste a bit gelatinous, as it releases a great deal of collagen during the cooking process.

Oxtail is used for soup,stew,and stock.
Oxtail is used for soup,stew,and stock.

The terminology surrounding the oxtail is a bit complex. Traditionally, it came from oxen, neutered adult cattle used as dray animals. Over time, however, oxtails have been harvested from any sort of cattle, including steers and veal cows. Some people feel that traditional oxtail has the most flavor, because the longer a cow lives, the more muscle develops in the tail, and as a result the flavor tends to be stronger and more complex.

Butter beans, which are often used in Jamaican oxtail soup.
Butter beans, which are often used in Jamaican oxtail soup.

As with other offal, the taste for oxtail probably arose from necessity. Many cultures have a long tradition of trying to use every part of every animal butchered, with the offal typically ending up in the pots of the lower classes, since they could not afford the more prized cuts of meat from the animal. Innovative cooks developed all sorts of interesting ways to use offal, and while it was once a lower class food, offal is now included on the recipes of many gourmet restaurants, especially those which offer traditional European cuisine.

Oxtail is precisely what is sounds like: the tail of an ox.
Oxtail is precisely what is sounds like: the tail of an ox.

The classic use of this meat is in oxtail soup, a venerable English classic. Oxtail also crops up in a lot of Caribbean food, especially in Jamaica, where a soup with butter beans is extremely popular. The well developed, rich flavor of a slowly braised oxtail can be quite memorable and very strong, and it is often included in the packaged beef bouillon sold at many markets. When oxtail stock is made at home, it can be frozen for future use if the cook thinks he or she won't be able to use it up.

Oxtail can be braised and then added to a hearty winter stew with vegetables.
Oxtail can be braised and then added to a hearty winter stew with vegetables.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon992525

Do Oxtail dishes date any earlier than the Roman era?

anon129888

yea you can get it at a grocery store. I get mine at walmart sometimes. It's expensive but so good! Tip: use a brown gravy to stew it.

anon122925

Hadn't cooked ox tail for a number of years when it used to be a really cheap meal. I bought three pounds from my local supermarket butchery dept. and had a shock when he told me the price - over 8 pounds! How long has this been so expensive?

anon110627

it's at regular grocery stores in US or go to spanish or caribbean grocery stores.

anon99090

Baptist Hospital Homestead offered ox tail yesterday at lunch. I have had ox tail soup in a cuban restaurant before but this was the first time to have it as a main dish. Very tasty!

StormyKnight

I didn’t think that I would ever eat oxtail but a friend of mine made some stew and didn’t tell me what the meat was and I loved it! This is a great recipe for oxtail stew:

You will need 1/8 Tbsp. allspice, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 onion (chopped), 3 garlic cloves (chopped), ¾ tsp. salt, 1 tsp. ginger, 1 cup chicken broth, 4 carrots (peeled and cut), 1 can chopped tomatoes, and 3 lbs. oxtail.

I use a Dutch oven to cook my stew in. Heat the olive oil until hot. Take each oxtail and brown them in the olive oil. As they are done, transfer them in a bowl. Add the onion and garlic to the pan (keep your grease). Cook that until your onion is tender. Stir in the carrots, tomatoes, and all of your spices. Add the browned oxtail back in. Cover and bake at 300 degrees for about two hours.

PurpleSpark

@calabama71: I live in a small town and we have two grocery stores. Both of them sell oxtail. If the grocery store where you live doesn't sell oxtail, you can probably talk to someone in the meat department about getting some.

calabama71

Can you buy oxtail at a regular grocery store or do you have to go to a meat market?

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