A Winter’s Tail: The Value of the Lesser Cuts

Because I’m a sun and sea kind of gal, fall and winter don’t come easily for me, especially now that I am as far North as I ever imagined possible.  Sure, who doesn’t love the idea of crimson foliage and warm hard apple cider-induced afternoon siestas, but when you take away all the cliché and romance, what’s left is a soon-to-be barren landscape preparing itself for the crush of harsh winter.  So, either I have a boarding pass to warmer climes or I stay put and make my way to the kitchen, conjuring all sorts of comfort foods.

Somehow, I find myself always cooking for a crowd (even when it’s just me), making huge pots of food that I happily send on to neighbors and friends; it’s my folly but I’m comforted in the knowledge that I’m not alone.  Now that I’ve sent final recipe tests and edits on to my editor for my new book, I am able to cook the way I usually do–instinctively, not measuring much and throwing in a handful of this and a last-minute dash of that.  Less recipe testing time means more free time, which always means more dinner parties.  One night, it was roasted lamb shoulder cooked with harissa, inspired by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi’s outstanding Jerusalem cookbook.  As I was planning to cook more long-simmered dishes, I also remembered another cookbook, Falling Off the Bone, by the venerable Jean Anderson, who, by the way, has a lyrical piece on Portuguese cooking in this month’s Saveur.  In Falling Off the Bone, Jean celebrates the tougher cuts of meat and turns them into mouthwatering tender bits.  These cuts also work as a wonderful backdrop to all sorts of colorful produce, like purple carrots and lavender-smudged turnips, blue potatoes and golden beets.

What I love about long-simmered stews is that the lesser the cut the better. So, in my quest for winter dishes to make ahead, oxtails came to mind. As with all lesser cuts–shanks and shoulders, butts and thighs– they need a little bit of extra love. Oxtail is actually the tail of the cow (or ox) and cut into sections. There’s a bit of marrow in the bone, so the meat cooks up tender and gelatinous.  My version for this oxtail stew sort of started out as a rendition of Louisiana grillades and grits and then went to finishing school somewhere closer to the Mediterranean.


Twice-Cooked Oxtail Stew with Prune, Tomato, and Carrot

Yield: 6  |  Total time: 3 hours 30 min
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oxtailstew1.kimsunee.comCooking the oxtails a day before serving them not only allows for deeper flavor, but also lets you completely degrease the sauce, and all that's left is a wonderful rich mouth-feel.  I cook this first by braising in the oven for even, low and slow cooking and then I pull the meat off the bones to cook a second time with all the added goodies, like prunes and garlic, onion, and tomato.  When I lived in Paris, my good friend, Jan, used to cook all manner of game birds with dried apricots and prunes, balancing out the sweetness with winter leeks and just the right amount of garlic and fresh herbs.  I love prunes with beef, too.  It adds a delicate sweetness that even prune-haters end up asking, "what makes this so good?"  When shopping for oxtails, ask your butcher for the larger, meatier pieces.  I serve this with rice grits I bring back from the South or with soft polenta from my stock of Bob's Red Mill products.


  • 4 1/2 to 5 pounds oxtails (about 8 to 10 meaty pieces)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence (or dried Italian seasoning)
  • 2 to 3 cups beef stock, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion or leek (trimmed and rinsed of grit)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 6 to 8 dried whole pitted prunes
  • 1 (14-ounces) can chopped tomatoes or peeled, whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  • Rice grits, soft polenta, or pasta, for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. Rinse oxtails and pat dry on paper towels. Season oxtails with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottom pot or roasting pan.  Add oxtails (without crowding the pan; brown in two batches, if needed) and let cook, without moving too much, until brown on one side, about 5 to 7 minutes; turn pieces over and brown the other side.  Remove meat, set aside, and add wine, scraping the bottom of pan of any browned bits.  Let wine cook over medium-high heat a few minutes.  Add oxtails back to pan.  Season with cinnamon and herbes de Provence.  Cover pan with tight-fitting lid or aluminum foil and cook in oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, checking occasionally to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan.  Add water or beef stock, a little at a time to keep the meat moist.  The meat should start to easily pull away from the bone when using a fork or tongs.  If not, continue cooking another 30 minutes or so.  Let cool enough to handle. 
  3. Remove meat from the bones and set aside to cool, cover and refrigerate for several hours, or preferably overnight.  Discard bones.  Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl or back into the pot through a fine mesh sieve.  Let cool (along with the meat) and refrigerate for several hours, or preferably overnight.
  4. The next day, remove the top layer of fat and discard; the remaining broth will be gelatinous but will soften when heated.  Place pot back on stove top over medium heat and let broth melt.  Sauté onions (or leeks) in a little bit of olive oil in a separate pan for about 5 minutes; add to the melting broth. Add the meat and stir.  Decrease the heat to medium-low and let cook, stirring occasionally about 30 minutes. Add garlic, prunes, and tomatoes, 1 cup of the beef stock, and stir; cook, stirring occasionally, another 40 to 50 minutes or until tender.  Taste and add more salt and pepper, as needed.
  5. Serve with soft polenta, grits, or pasta, and garnish, if desired, with fresh chopped parsley.

Date Published: November 6, 2013
1 comment

All recipes have been tested by the Test Kitchens unless otherwise noted.

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  1. November 20, 2013 6:43 pm by pierino Reply

    It’s hard to think of a more soul satisfying food than oxtail. It carries me back to Rome and Da Nerone. You can be sure I’ll be messing around with this one.

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