If you’re not beefing up your soups and stews with oxtails, you should be. Resourceful cooks around the world have long utilized this collagen-rich appendage (once considered an undesirable byproduct of cattle slaughter) to add richness and lustrous body to all sorts of braises—and in many preparations it’s the star component. Oxtail is the foundation of Hawaii’s soul-satisfying soup: beefy-rich broth infused with ginger, star anise, dried mushrooms, jujubes, and the aged dried orange peel known as chen pi. In Jamaica, where the tough cut is a staple of the cuisine, cooks simmer it to melting tenderness in a silky gravy that’s seasoned with the dark, smoky caramelized sugar called browning. Romans transform it into coda alla vaccinara, a lush peasant dish that’s brightened with tomatoes and wine.
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Science Behind Their Silkiness
No matter the preparation, oxtail is typically cooked low and slow to convert as much of its collagen as possible into gelatin so that the meat is meltingly tender and the broth full-bodied and satiny. That conversion begins at temperatures as low as 122 degrees and kicks into high gear between 160 and 180 degrees. Tough, collagen-rich cuts like oxtail are often held in that higher range to maximize breakdown.
On the stovetop, that process can take 3 or 4 hours, but we found that using the high setting of a multicooker can reduce the time to an hour, plus 30 minutes for releasing steam naturally.
- Oxtails are typically sold as crosscut pieces that vary in thickness and diameter, depending on if they are cut from the top or bottom of the tail.
- If possible, buy oxtails that are wider, 2-inch‑thick pieces (far left image below) to help ensure that the meat doesn’t overcook and stays attached to the bone.
- You can order oxtails from your butcher; they’re also often found in the freezer section.