Oxtail, what can I say, it's one of my favorite dishes next to shake n bake chicken and tator tots (don’t judge me, it’s a childhood favorite lol). But seriously, oxtail is one of Jamaica’s staple dishes and rightfully so. When prepared just right it's bursting with flavor and you know its sweet when you suck on the bone trying to savor every last drop of meat and gravy. Of course, Jamaica is known for its other wonderful dishes like jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish, escovitch fish, curry goat and so much more, but today I showcase oxtail in all its glory. And no oxtail isn’t exclusively Jamaican, it’s found in other wonderful cuisines in various Asian, African, and European recipes.
Now, just a little disclaimer, everyone, and their mama makes this dish differently from the seasonings right down to how it's cooked. In my travels to Jamaica and even living in Toronto where the diversity of foods is so vast, I’ve tried oxtail from many hands to see how they add their own spin to it and I’ve yet to be disappointed. Growing up, this was a special treat for mom and I, mainly because of its cost so we only had this on special occasions. I do remember watching how she made it and she would always season it and let it marinate for a day or two, just so all the seasonings could soak in together.
If you’ve never heard of oxtail before no worries, it’s basically the tail of an ox and typically slow-cooked or braised, with variations including the use of a pressure cooker. Varying in size, this cut of meat is rich in gelatin, contains collagen, made up of cartilage and bone, and once it's cut it gets smaller with less meat towards the end of the tail. When purchasing, I always buy fresh and the butcher will typically weigh it before trimming and I have it cut into about 1-inch pieces. The cost does vary, and in Toronto I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $6.99 per pound and as high as $11.99. But despite the cost and the fact that it is boney it still packs a hearty bite.
This recipe was a bit tricky for me to carve out simply because I never measure ingredients when I cook. In general, I learned how to cook by eyeballing everything, so in saying that for example, this recipe is not spicy, but others may prefer to add extra heat. Also, let me just say, you cannot just add spices to oxtail then toss it in a pot to cook, this recipe requires time and patience and you will need to marinate the meat overnight. Nevertheless, here is how I made my oxtail on the weekend and it passed my mom’s taste test and I hope it passes yours as well.
Jamaican Oxtail Ingredients
2 ½ pounds of oxtail
1 - 1½ tablespoon seasoning salt (or to taste)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon black pepper (or to taste)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
19 oz can large lima beans (drained)
*1 lemon (optional)
1/2 medium white onion (chopped)
4-6 cloves fresh garlic (finely chopped)
4-6 springs of fresh thyme
2 green onions (coarsely chopped)
**1-2 scotch bonnet peppers
2 ½ cup water
2 tablespoon ketchup (heaping)
2-3 tablespoon vinegar (to wash meat)
2 tablespoon canola oil
1 - 1½ tablespoon soya sauce (I used soya sauce that had 25% less salt)
½ teaspoon cool runnings gravy browning
NOTE: boil a kettle of water set aside
Quick thickening mix (you will add towards the end of the cooking process)
Using a medium size spoon, add 2 spoonfuls of the current liquid from the oxtail
2 tablespoon of ketchup
1 tablespoon soya sauce
½ tsp browning
1. In a stainless-steel bowl or shallow dish, rinse oxtail thoroughly with water and vinegar. Drain the excess water well.
* You can also add the juice of 1 lemon to this mixture and rinse.
2. Add paprika, seasoning salt, black pepper, garlic powder, browning, soya sauce, fresh garlic, thyme, green onion, white onion, ketchup and rub the ingredients into the meat until evenly coated.
**For extra spice you can add one scotch bonnet pepper finely chopped to this mixture. Removing the seeds will take away some of the heat so depending on how much you can handle seeds are optional (wear gloves and do not rub your eyes). Cover your meat in an airtight container and marinate overnight.
3. In a large pot over medium heat (I used my cast iron dutch), add canola oil and allow to heat. Before adding your oxtail pieces to the pot, brush away the onions and thyme leaving them in your marinating bowl and set aside as you will add them later. Sear the oxtail pieces for about 1 minute each side. Add in about 2 – 2 ½ cups water, just enough to cover the meat, bring to a boil and cover.
4. Boil a kettle of water and set aside. As the meat is cooking, the water will evaporate and you will need to keep adding water to ensure the meat is stewing. Adding warm/hot water from the kettle instead of cold water is better so it doesn’t shock the meat.
5. Let cook for approximately 1- 1 1/2 hours, keeping an eye on the water and stir occasionally to avoid the meat from sticking.