Oxtails charred over a wood fire and braised with dried boletes, stock and tomato is a great way to enjoy one of the finest cuts the cow has to offer.
Literally the richest, most dense, collagen-packed meat on the animal, oxtails are a special treat, and I make sure to scoop up a few packs from the freezer at Bubbling Springs Farm after the beef gets processed. Not a lot of people buy them, and, for the life of me I can’t understand why.
Oxtails are unofficially classified as a type of offal, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Oxtails are meat–definitely not organs, they just come from a tail. if you haven’t had them, they’re just basically the stickiest, most filling pot roast you’ve ever had, and the fact that there’s only one of them on each animal just makes them more precious.
Oxtails need to be braised or otherwise slow-cooked, and a tomato-mushroom combo is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, no matter if you’re an oxtail aficionado, or a newb.
Grilling for a subtle smoky note
To add some extra depth to the braise, I brown the oxtails over a wood fire here, but you could also smoke them—just don’t overdo it, keep it to 30 minutes or less. The grilling over wood adds a subtle smoke to the braise without it tasting “smoky” if that makes any sense, and you could use the method for just about anything you want to slow-cook.
The braising liquid
The braising liquid here is a sort of rich gravy of the gods flavored with tomatoes and mushrooms. I like the braising liquid to be spoonable though, which makes it easier to whisk in a bit of butter at the end that enlivens the sauce.
You could use chunky tomatoes for a rustic look, but the loose, spoon-able jus here is a lesson in refinement, and worth trying out. Just as with the grilling method, you could apply the “less-is-more approach here to lots of different braised cuts to yield a velvety finishing sauce that glistens and shines as you spoon it over the caveman chunks of meat at the table.
Wood Fired Oxtails Braised with Boletes and Tomato
- ~ 3 lbs oxtails
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ½ oz dried boletes or other mushrooms
- 3 cups meat or mushroom stock warmed
- ¼ cup dry red wine
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 oz carrot
- 1 oz celery
- 2 oz onion
- ½ oz 3 large cloves garlic
Dried mushroom gremolata (optional)
- ½ oz dried mushrooms preferably whole slices
- Small handful Italian parsley
- A few scrapes of lemon zest
- Soft polenta
- Wilted bitter greens especially dandelions
Dry brine the oxtails
- Season the oxtails all over with salt and pepper and allow to rest overnight (optional, but recommended for optimal flavor).
Brown on the grill
- The next day, make a woodfired grill and brown the oxtails over the embers until browned all over. Take your time browning the oxtails.
- Since you won’t eat the oxtails after they’re grilled, to save time, this is a good thing to do when you’re making a fire to cook a steak for dinner or something else, as you will eat the oxtails in the next couple days.
- When the oxtails are browned, remove them and bring to the kitchen.
- Preheat the oven to 275 F--perfect for a slow, gentle simmer.
- For the braise, chop the onion carrot and celery into small pieces*, then puree for 60 seconds in a blender with the garlic, wine, stock, and tomato paste. Strain the mixture (optional, but helps keep the sauce velvety) then pour over the oxtails in a dutch oven.
- Add the bay leaf and dried mushrooms, cover the pot and bake for 2.5 hours, or until the meat is tender and moves freely from the bone. Chill the pot completely overnight or at least until the fat is solidified. Remove the fat and discard, give to the birds, mix with the dog’s food, etc.
- To serve, warm up the oxtails in their juice until hot. Spoon ½ cup polenta into each one of four deep, preheated serving bowls, along with a generous serving of wilted dandelions. Top each serving with a hunk of oxtail.
- Meanwhile, taste the sauce, adjust as needed for salt and pepper, bring to a simmer , stir in the butter until dissolved, and reduce the sauce a bit if you’d like it thicker. Spoon some of the sauce over each portion of oxtail, reveling in the carnal delight that is an animal’s tail, garnish with the gremolata and serve.