Whether or not oxtail is an offal varies from one culinary culture to the next. Offal is defined as the “waste” that remains after an animal is butchered. It may include the hide, the internal organs and the entrails. But what is considered “waste” is relative. In the Philippines, for instance, as with most of Asia, animal parts such as the tongue, brain, intestines, kidneys, spleen and stomach are considered delicacies rather than waste. In fact, they often command a higher price than common meat cuts. Asians have the same philosophy with fish — we relish the head, the belly and even the skin.
So, I won’t call oxtail an offal. It is, rather, a prized delicacy.
In the Philippines, the most common way of cooking oxtail is as part of the kare-kare trifecta of oxtail, ox leg and tripe (depending on the cook, it can be ox tripe, intestines and ox leg, or ox face, ox tripe and intestines). As part of kare-kare, oxtail is cooked with its skin on which turns gelatinous during the long hours of simmering and creates a rich and rather sticky broth.
A couple of weeks ago, I was able to buy a whole tail but minus the skin. I had it machine cut into two-inch lengths intending to make a stew with red wine. You know, French style. Onion, carrots and celery sautéed in butter, a bottle of good red wine, slow cooking… Yesterday, after thawing the oxtail, I realized we were out of red wine. No carrots either. So, I used beer instead. And Southeast Asian herbs and spices. And the stew was just, well… magnifico!
No other liquid but the beer. By the time the meat was tender, there was practically only a few tablespoonfuls of liquid left and that liquid was thick and sticky with the melted tendons from the oxtail.
It is important to sear and brown the meat first to get the proper texture.
It is just as important to avoid opening the lid and stirring more than a couple of times during cooking. Many cooks think that flavors won’t go around evenly unless a stew is stirred often. Actually, stirring is just to prevent scorching at the bottom of the pan. So long as you start with enough liquid, the flavors will go around evenly with the simmering action.
- 1 oxtail cut into 2-inch lengths (I had a total of 10 pieces, some wider than others, naturally)
- 1 bottle beer (I used Tsingtao but feel free to use any brand you like or have — and use two or more if cooking a rather large oxtail)
- 2 onions chopped
- 2 stalks lemongrass finely sliced
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1 bunch Chinese chives cut into 2-inch lengths
- 2 to 3 finger chilies sliced
- juice of 2 lemons or limes
- brown sugar to taste
- salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
Heat the cooking oil in a wide (wide enough to hold all meat pieces in a single layer) thick-bottomed pan.
Add the oxtail pieces and brown (in batches, in necessary).
Remove the meat with a slotted spoon.
In the remaining oil, sauté the onion, lemongrass, ginger, chilies and Chinese chives.
Return the oxtail to the pan. Stir and make sure they are in a single layer.
Pour in the beer. Bring to the boil then allow to boil, uncovered, for a couple of minutes.
Pour in the lime or lemon juice.
Add enough sugar to get the sweet-sour balance that you prefer.
Season with more salt.
Cover and simmer for three to four hours or until the meat is very, very tender (should separate from the bone with no resistance at all) and the liquid is reduced to a few tablespoonfuls.