Two years ago, we went to my sister Jane’s house for Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving, several pregnant cows were delivered to their farm as her father-in-law Donald started a herd of Angus cattle. In the spring, only one male was born, and they named him Sammy.
Now, two years later, after spending Thanksgiving week visiting with my Maryland family, Jane sent us home with two packages of ground Sammy and Sammy’s tail.
I’ve never seen oxtail before, let alone cooked it, but it was a delicious experience. The tail was much bigger than I expected. It was over a foot long, cut into four pieces. Technically, the oxtail is considered offal, something I am not inclined to eat.
The tail has a lot of bone and connective tissue, so after browsing through several cookbooks, it seemed that braising was the way to go. I pulled out the slow cooker for oxtail stew. Most of the recipes called for about 4 pounds of oxtail, and Sammy’s tail weighed only 2½, so I could apply my usual formula of halving the meat and doubling the vegetables.
The stew smelled great from the very beginning because I oven-browned the tail before adding it to the vegetables in the slow cooker. We just got our first share of veggies from the Shared Harvest Winter CSA last week, so those onions, carrots, potatoes, and turnips went into the pot. We couldn’t have been much more connected to the ingredients in this meal.
My favorite part of using the slow cooker is this. You combine the ingredients, start the timer, and leave the house to do something else. Now comes the best part. When you return home, after a few hours, when you open the door, a comforting aroma greets you. It smells like someone has been slaving over a hot stove to make you a delicious meal, something your grandmother would make you. The magical thing is that the work is already done, and all you have to do is to wait for dinner time.
I wasn’t sure about whether or I’d like oxtail stew. As I said, oxtail is considered offal. Fortunately, the taste and texture of the tail is like meat not organ. The meat was tender and falling off the bone. Most of the connective tissue had melted into the pot. The flavor was incredibly rich and beefy. Overall, I’d say it was a success.
That said, I am not likely to seek out oxtail to make this again. If I did, there are a few things I would change.
First of all, I would double the amount of liquid added to the pot. The recipe recommended cooking the oxtail in the slow cooker for 10½ to 12 hours, but I stopped after 9 hours because the gravy had boiled down so much that I was afraid it would burn. The meat was tender enough after that time, but I would have loved to have more of the richly-flavored gravy. I’m sure if it had cooked for a few more hours, the gravy would have been even better.
Another thing has to do with the thyme. I simply layered the sprigs of thyme with the veggies and meat. Unfortunately, that left the stems scattered throughout the pot. It was a pain to pick them out. It would have been better to wrap the sprigs with string so it was each to remove all at once.
Finally, when the stew was cooked, I separated the meat and veggies from the remaining gravy and chilled it overnight. This made it easier to remove the extra fat that cooked off of the tail. When we ate this last night, I put a tail section in each of our bowls, but I didn’t really like separating the meat from bone as I ate. Tonight, before reheating the leftovers, we pulled the meat off the bone and mixed it with the veggies. That worked much better, and I would do that before serving it, if I made this again.
Thanks Sammy (and Jane, Danny, and Donald), for a great pot of stew. We’re looking forward to some Sammy meat loaf in the near future.
Serves 4 generously
Adapted from Sunset’s Crockery Cookbook
2½ lbs oxtail, trimmed of excess fat
12 oz carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 onions, peeled and each cut into 6 wedges
1½ lbs small red-skinned potatoes, left whole if very small (1½ inches), cut into 1½ inch pieces, if bigger
4 turnips, peeled and cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic, minced
Generous handful of thyme sprigs, wrapped in cotton kitchen string
2 bay leaves
½ cup flour
3 cups beef broth
¼ cup tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the oxtail on a rimmed baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, until nice and browned. Discard any fat in the pan.
Meanwhile, arrange the carrots, onions, potatoes, and turnips in the slow cooker. Add the minced garlic, thyme bundle and bay leaves.
In a small bowl, whisk flour into1 cup beef broth. Add the remaining broth and tomato paste and combine until smooth.
Place the browned oxtails on top of the vegetables. Pour the broth mixture over the oxtails. Cover and cook at Low setting until the meat is tender and easily pulls away from the bone (10½ to 12 hours).
Remove the oxtails from the pot, and separate the meat from the bones. Shred the meat. Skim any fat from the remaining stew in the pot. This is easier if you chill it overnight. Add shredded meat back to the vegetables and serve.