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Oxtail: From Peasant Scraps to Gourmet Stew
Oxtail stew is an age-old dish that’s found new life among modern gastronomes. Dig into Groupon’s guide to oxtail to learn how chefs prep this challenging ingredient.
Chefs like to talk about using every part of the animal, but few ingredients put that conviction to the test like oxtail. Taken from male or female cows—many types of cattle can be used, not just those that meet the definition of oxen—oxtail consists of two parts: the jointed, marrow-filled tailbone at the center, and the tough, intricately marbled meat that surrounds it. Because it’s made up largely of collagen and connective tissue, chefs cannot simply chop and fry oxtail; the cross-sections would only harden under intense heat. Instead, they usually braise it slowly for an extended period of time, often seven hours or more. This process turns what was once chewy, fatty meat into tender morsels that form a rich, gelatinous base suitable for a hearty stew or squishy beanbag filling.
In fact, oxtail stew is by far the most common dish prepared with this unconventional ingredient, and variations of it are found in English, Jamaican, Italian, Chinese, and Korean cuisine, among others. The emergence of oxtail recipes around the world likely stems from the ingredient’s historic affordability: wealthier classes would consume choice cuts of beef, whereas peasants had to make do with the tail and poems about filet mignon. However, oxtail has gained favor among gourmet chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and Gordon Ramsey in recent years, driving up the price of this once-provincial delicacy.