As a new immigrant to Canada, I remember the days when oxtails were just about the cheapest cut of meat you could get at the grocery store / butcher (they were practically giving the stuff away). Along with liver, gizzards, trotters, chicken feet, snouts and other parts of meats which were considered undesirable by the major part of the buying public, we reveled in the prices. In the Caribbean nothing goes to waste, so what most people refused to use, we had already perfected recipes which brought out the natural goodness of these cuts. Today, with oxtails hovering between $8 and $11 a pound, its now become something you buy for a special occasion or when you have a serious craving.. as in this case with me today!
Note: We’ll start this off on the stove top, then finish it slowly in the oven so it’s important that you use an oven-proof pot. You can use the same technique to start it as I did, then finish it in a slow cooker if you wish. You may need to adjust the cooking time (a bit longer)
2-3 lbs oxtails (trimmed / washed / dry)
2 tablespoon veg oil
4 cloves garlic (crushed)
1/2 medium onion (diced)
1 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped shado beni aka culantro (or cilantro)
3 scallions (chopped)
4 sprigs thyme
3 wiri wiri peppers (1/2 scotch bonnet – no seeds)
1 medium tomato (diced)
3 cups coconut milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
Important: If doing this recipe gluten free, please go through the entire list of ingredients to make sure they meet with your specific gluten free dietary needs – especially the curry powder which can contain flour as a filler.
Heat the veg oil in an oven-proof pot (with lid) on low heat, then add the crushed garlic and diced onion. Cook on low for about 3-4 minutes. Then go in with your favorite curry powder (I like the Madras blends you get out of the Caribbean). Heat still on low, toast the curry powder to release the aroma of all the spices which make up the curry powder and to cook-off the sort of ‘raw’ curry taste. This will take about 3-5 minutes.
Now add the trimmed (please try to cut off as much of the fat off the oxtail) pieces of oxtails into the pot and stir. The idea is to coat the pieces with the lovely curry base we created.
Basically all you have to do next, is add all the other ingredients, turn the heat up and bring it to a boil If we bring it to a boil, it will start cooking much faster in the oven. Set your oven to 375F.
Place the lid on the pot and on the middle rack in your oven. Now here is where you get to personalize it a few ways. Depending on how old the animal was the tails came from, it will determine how long it will take to cook. On average, to get fall-off-the-bones tender (like I like) it will range between 2 and 3 hours. I lucked out and 2.5 hrs later it was just perfect. Near the end of cooking, taste for salt and adjust accordingly, as your tolerance for salt will be different than mine. And the third way to personalize this depends on how thick you want your gravy. If you find that the meat is tender but your gravy is thin.. remove the lid and crank up the heat a bit or simple place the pot back on the stove top and reduce the liquid that way.
If you want to stretch this dish a bit, you can add some potato and carrots the final hour of cooking.. but I’ll recommend starting off with a bit more curry powder and you’ll need to adjust the salt and cooking liquid (coconut milk) as well.
I finished it off with some fresh chopped herbs (parsley/ cilantro) as I took it out of the oven! Optional, so I didn’t mention it in the list of ingredients.
Tip: Since oxtails can be very fatty and the fact that we started off with veg oil, after about 2 hours of cooking you can skim-off the fat at the surface of the pot and discard (NOT down your sink). The last thing you need is additional grease in your diet. If you find that oxtails are beyond your budget, you can use Turkey necks as I did with this recipe: The Ultimate Curry Turkey Necks Recipe.