This is a perfect make ahead dish- it improves with flavor if you cook it one day and serve the next. You can make it and serve it same day if you like though. Same day -you will need about 7 hours start to finish. It is only about 30 + 30 minutes of hands on time to prep it for the oven and then strip the meat and reduce the sauce. Or you can prep and braise it one day and strip and reheat heat the next.
Campbell’s Oxtail soup was one of the original condensed soups offered when the Joseph Campbell Company first started developing condensed soup recipes in 1897. The idea was so novel that the company won the Gold Medal Award of Excellence at the 1900 Paris Exhibition!
I recall Oxtail soup being in the cupboard as a child and eating it regularly. I never once really thought about what ‘oxtail’ was. Well – as it turns out it is not from an ox… but it is made from beef tails. It is thought the ‘ox’ reference is an archaic language carry over and that oxtail soup may have been first made by French Huguenot and Flemish immigrants to England in the late 17th century. I read into that ‘peasant-food-not-to-waste-one-bit-of-an-animal’.
Nowadays many cultures including Indonesian, Creole and French still have their own version of oxtail soup or stew.
So they must have been on to something because Oxtail soup and stews are still around 400 years later. When you think of the the current fascination with ‘bone broths’ you realize the bone broth movement is really just a return to rustic, basic cooking. I think the ‘bone-broth-marketing-board’ has done a good job since the best stock recipes have always been based on simmering bones for hours. I guess the difference lies in the simmering time – bone broth simmers for 24 -48 hours while most stocks simmer 3-8 hours. (See the veal stock recipe I love if you are interested in more.)
Now I am intrigued and will have to investigate the value of extra simmering time!
So – all this to say that an oxtail stew is somewhere in between a bone broth/stock and short rib stew. You roast the oxtail sections for hours and let the marrow and gelatin release into the sauce. The flavor improves as it sits and when it cools you can skim off the fat to leave a lovely silky, nutrient dense sauce. Because of the natural gelatin in the oxtail you don’t need to add any thickeners to the sauce which makes it gluten free!
This recipe is a great make ahead recipe. For maximum flavor, it can be a 3 day process if you marinate the oxtails for a day, cook for a day and serve the following. It is possible to make and serve the same day if you marinate the oxtail for a few hours only, braise and then separate the fat while the stew is still warm. For that you would need one of those fat separating pourers and you may want to thicken the sauce with corn starch rather than reducing on the stove top.
You can switch this recipe up as well. This one calls for celeriac and carrots in the stew. I would definitely keep the carrots as an essential ingredient but you could add onions, rutabaga, celery, mushrooms -whatever you have on hand that you might normally add to a stew.
You can serve this delicious stew over pasta or mashed potatoes. You can vary the herbs to suit your taste – dried bay leaf and garlic for sure, thyme is pretty much a must, rosemary would be optional I think.
There seems to be a raging controversy on-line about whether to remove the meat from the bone. When done braising the oxtail was not fall off the bone and there was still quite a gelatinous quality so I think serving the whole oxtail portion would be a bit of an acquired taste. I ultimately chose to strip the meat, reduce the sauce and serve over pasta. But -presentation is your choice!
So the next wintery day when you are comfy, cozy at home -consider making this wine braised oxtail stew and having a delicious, rustic comfort food to serve the next!