Rich and hearty, oxtail soup is a long, slow process perfect for a melancholy winter day. Oxtail is exactly what it sounds like-the tail of a bull, cut into pieces 2-3 inches thick, with the bone in the middle. It is about as cheap of a cut of beef as you can get, but with some love and care, you can make it into a comforting, nourishing stew that will get you through the gloom.
Saucy Note: Although most of it is hands-off, this recipe needs at least 6 hours cook time, plus prep and resting, so plan accordingly. It is a great recipe if you have stuff to do around the house, or feel like taking a long nap.
Special Equipment: Large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven or roaster
3-4 lbs oxtail Saucy Note: Usually the whole oxtail is cut and packaged together in plastic. 3-4lbs should be about 2 whole tails. The meat is very fatty, so it might seem like a lot when you’re buying it, but a lot of it cooks down and it is necessary to separate the rest of the fat once the oxtails are cooked, since many find it unappetizing.
1 28oz can pureed tomatoes
64 oz. beef broth Saucy Note: The broth gets reduced down for a long time, so start with a lot of liquid.
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups red wine
1 lb. potatoes or parsnips, cubed
For Serving: Sour cream or crème fraiche
Optional Step: When I plan on searing meat, I like to preheat my Dutch oven in the regular oven at 300°F. While it heats, prep everything else. Just be careful not to grab the handles once you put it on the stove-I’ve done it enough times to tell you it hurts. A lot. Someday I’ll learn.
Pat oxtails dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Leave at room temperature while prepping vegetables.
Dice carrots, onion, celery, and garlic very fine. Combine and set aside in small bowl.
Place Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 3 tbsp. olive oil and heat until just smoking. Sear oxtails on all sides, starting with meaty sides and finishing on the cut bone sections. When the oxtails have a rich, dark sear on all sides, remove to a clean plate. Saucy Note: Oxtail pieces vary in size, so some of the smaller pieces might finish much quicker than some of the larger ones. The meat is ready to flip when it releases easily from the pan.
Turn heat down to medium-low and add vegetables. Cook slowly, stirring frequently, until soft and golden-do not brown. After 10-15 minutes, vegetables should be melty and aromatic, and there should not be much liquid in the pan. Add tomato paste and turn heat to medium, stirring to incorporate. When vegetables start to sizzle (should only take about 30 seconds) add ¼ cup of wine to deglaze pan. Add pureed tomatoes, beef broth, and remaining wine. Place oxtails in soup, including any juices accumulated on the plate. Add enough cold water to fill the pot about halfway-make sure oxtails are completely covered, and stir to combine. Bring soup to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer.
Simmer soup gently for about 4 hours. Check occasionally to make sure the simmer does not get too aggressive-you want it to be a gentle bubble, not a low boil. The oxtails are done when the meat is tender and separated from the bone, but not completely falling off. The meat should still have a tooth to it, and not be mushy. Remove pieces of oxtail to a clean plate and cover with foil to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Once oxtails are removed, turn the heat up slightly on the soup. Reduce liquid by about half, until it has a thick, unctuous quality. You can reduce it quicker by turning the heat up, but keep on eye on it so it doesn’t reduce too low-it is surprising how quickly a large pot of liquid can cook down.
When liquid is reduced, it needs to be chilled for up to 45 minutes. Using cheesecloth or a gravy separator, strain into 1 or 2 large, heatproof bowls or storage containers. Put in fridge, freezer, or the freezing winter fog until the soup has cooled slightly and the fat rises to the top. Skim fat and scum, and return soup to pot.
While the soup is cooling, prepare the oxtail meat. It should be cool enough to handle now, so go through and pull the meat off the bones, discarding any fat or gristle as well.
Bring soup back to a simmer, then add meat and potatoes. Salt soup to taste and simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche (French style sour cream) and some crusty hot bread.