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What is Oxtail? Nutritional Benefits & How to Cook It

Oxtail has evolved beyond a simple staple food, emerging as a gourmet favorite in kitchens around the globe. From Italy to Hong Kong, oxtail is being used as a key ingredient in soups and stews, giving dishes a rich taste and texture unlike any other. 


Its journey from a lower-value scrap to a sought-after delicacy tells a story of rediscovery and innovation in cooking. Let’s go from “tail to table” and learn all about oxtail - from its history, to its preparation, to where to find quality oxtail near you. Plus, make sure to read on to learn about some oxtail recipes that will leave you asking yourself, “where has oxtail been my whole life?”

Key Takeaways

  • Oxtail refers to the tail of cattle.
  • It's known for its rich flavor and silky texture when cooked.
  • Oxtail is widely used in soups, stews, and braised dishes.
  • Grass-fed oxtail offers richer flavor and more nutrients than most store-bought, grain-fed options.

What is Oxtail?

Oxtail, as the name suggests, originates from the tail of a cow. It’s the “ox” part that trips most people up. Historically, it came from the tail of an ox, but nowadays, it comes primarily from beef cattle - the same animal you get your steaks from. 


Oxtail is very high in collagen, the structural protein that is the source of the rich gelatinous (smooth and silky) texture found in cooked oxtail.  You’ll most commonly encounter oxtail that is cut into thick pieces or chunks to be more easily used in stews or braises. These kinds of dishes use slow cooking methods that help tenderize the meat and allow the collagen to soften and release flavor. These flavors are particularly pronounced in oxtail from grass-fed and finished beef, which consume a much more nutritionally dense diet, leading to a superior taste and texture with even higher levels of collagen.

what is oxtail

A Brief History of Oxtail

Historically, the tail of an ox or steer was not considered a prime cut of meat. Instead, it was seen as a by-product of butchering, and the oxtail flew under the radar for centuries. The story of oxtail stems from a practical need to use every part of the animal in cooking. The practice of nose-to-tail eating, which includes the use of bones and offal, was particularly prevalent in rural communities and among working-class families across Europe, Africa, and Asia. Today, oxtail has undergone a remarkable transformation in its culinary status. With proper slow-cooking methods, oxtail is considered a delicacy with a rich flavor that compliments palates worldwide.

What Does Oxtail Taste Like?

It’s not quite like anything you’ve had before. Oxtail’s lush texture, which is prized in soups and stews, is all thanks to collagen. Collagen is commonly found in broths and soup stocks and is responsible for enriching foods with a warm full-bodied taste. It’s a kind of structural protein that adds a layer of complexity to the flavor of oxtail, resulting in a luxurious mouthfeel with a silky texture that harmonizes wonderfully with the fat. 


If you’ve never had oxtail, you might be wondering, “how does it compare to other cuts of meat?” Oxtail shares similarities with a variety of cuts but is distinct in its texture and flavor. This is due to the unique ratio of fat, muscle, and collagen found in oxtail.

How oxtail compares to other cuts of meat

Let's find out how oxtail compares to other popular cuts of meat you might be familiar with:

  • Oxtail vs Beef Short Ribs: Similar to oxtail, beef short ribs are known for their tenderness when slow-cooked. Oxtail tends to have a more supple and  soft texture, however.
  • Oxtail vs Beef Shank: Beef shank is another cut that requires slow cooking to break down the tough muscle fibers. Shank is leaner, resulting in a more rigid texture. Oxtail offers a fattier bite in comparison.
  • Oxtail vs Pork Hocks: Pork hocks are the pork equivalent to oxtail in terms of their collagen-rich composition. While both cuts yield a succulent texture when cooked slowly, pork hocks impart a strong pork flavor that is lighter and sweeter than the robust beefiness of oxtail.
  • Oxtail vs Lamb Neck: Another slow-cooked favorite, lamb neck offers a gamey flavor characteristic of lamb meat. Oxtail, by contrast, provides a less gamey taste more universally palatable.
  • Oxtail vs Veal Tail: Veal tail, being from younger cattle, offers a milder flavor. The texture, while still velvety and smooth, is less intense than that of traditional oxtail.
  • Oxtail vs Osso Bucco: Osso Bucco, a veal shank cut featuring marrowbone, is leaner and more marrow-rich than Oxtail, but similar in that both require slow cooking to achieve their signature tender texture.

Is Oxtail Healthy?

Packed with protein, minerals, and vitamins, oxtail is healthy and nutritious. However, its nutritional crowning jewel is none other than its high collagen content which brings oxtail into the realm of the superfood. Collagen is beneficial for joint and skin health and a recent study published in 2022 found that orally consumed collagen “enhances the moisture content of the skin, as well as the elasticity of the skin, reducing wrinkling and roughness”. It’s a tremendously beneficial nutrient that many people aren’t familiar with. Think broths, soup stocks, and slow-cooked meats. Collagen acts as a thickener that adds a depth and full-body flavor to dishes that contain it.

Grass-fed oxtail takes the health benefits even further. Cattle that are grass-fed produce meat that is higher in certain nutrients, including that beloved collagen. Additionally, according to a study on grass-fed beef vs traditional beef, grass-fed beef yields more omega-3 fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), associated with reduced body fat and improved immune function. Remember, everything is in moderation, as oxtail does contain cholesterol and a fair amount of sodium when prepared. 


Oxtail Nutritional Profile

Here’s a look at the nutritional profile of oxtail:


Nutrient/Component

Benefit/Consideration

Protein

High in protein (about 30 grams per 100g serving), essential for muscle repair, hormone production, and immune function.

Collagen

Rich in collagen, improving skin moisture, elasticity, and reducing wrinkles. Essential for skin, hair, nails, bones, ligaments, and tendon health.

Healthy Fats

Contains monounsaturated fats, reducing bad cholesterol levels and supporting cell development.

Minerals

A good source of iron, zinc, selenium, and phosphorus, supporting blood cell production, immune function, antioxidant activity, and bone health.

Vitamins

Packed with B vitamins, including B-12 for nerve function and DNA production, and niacin for digestion and energy production.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Higher in grass-fed oxtail, known for anti-inflammatory properties.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

Found more in grass-fed oxtail, associated with reduced body fat and improved immune function.

High in Sodium

Often high due to cooking seasonings, which can affect blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

Cholesterol

Contains cholesterol, which can impact heart health, depending on individual dietary responses.

Calorie-Dense

Contains about 250-300 calories per 100g serving, requiring mindful portion control.

Nutritional Versatility

Can be used in a variety of dishes, enhancing nutrient-rich meals when combined with vegetables.

Improved Nutrient Absorption

The gelatin from collagen may improve digestion and nutrient absorption, contributing to better gut health.


What is the Best Way to Eat Oxtail?

Oxtail is a fan-favorite for use in soup and stew based preparations worldwide. That's because the slow cooking methods involved soften the oxtail's connective structures, tenderizing the meat and allowing its fat to enrich the broth with a silky, flavorful base unmatched by other cuts. Here are some of the most famous oxtail soups and stews from around the world:


Vietnamese Oxtail Pho: This aromatic soup showcases oxtail's ability to enrichen broth. Key ingredients include star anise, cinnamon, ginger, and onions, which are simmered alongside the oxtail to create the rich broth. Rice noodles, fresh herbs like cilantro and basil, and a squeeze of lime are added to serve, making for a light but powerful dish.


Jamaican Oxtail Stew: A hearty and spicy stew that's a staple in Caribbean cuisine. This dish slow-cooks oxtail with butter beans, scotch bonnet peppers, and a blend of spices including allspice and thyme. The result is a savory, tender meat that falls off the bone, served with rice and peas or fried plantain for a complete meal.


Coda alla Vaccinara (Roman Oxtail Stew): An Italian classic from Rome, this dish braises oxtail with tomatoes, celery, carrots, and aromatic herbs like rosemary and bay leaves. Red wine is often added to the sauce. Traditionally served with pasta or polenta, Coda alla Vaccinara is a rich, comforting dish that secures oxtail’s place in fine dining.


Rabo de Toro (Spanish Oxtail Stew): Originating from Spain, this stew is known for its deep, complex flavors achieved by stewing oxtail in a mixture of red wine, garlic, onions, and Spanish paprika. Carrots and tomatoes are added to the mix, creating a thick, savory sauce that complements the tender meat perfectly. Rabo de Toro is often enjoyed with potatoes or crusty bread to soak up the delicious sauce.


Beyond the obvious choice to use oxtail in soups and stews, its versatility also makes it a prime choice for sandwiches, rice dishes, and more. The adaptability of oxtail makes it a great choice for chef’s looking to let their creativity run free!

raw grass-fed oxtail from local farm

Oxtail Cooking Tips and Tricks

Choosing high-quality meat is crucial for standout oxtail dishes. Look for oxtail with a rich red hue and a healthy fat marbling, which are signs of freshness and flavor. The meat should tightly hug the bones, a marker of quality processing. As we touched on earlier, opting for grass-fed beef can also bring additional advantages like richer flavor and better nutritional profile, offering higher omega-3 and antioxidant levels.


With a prime cut of oxtail ready, we can walk you through preparation, cooking techniques, spices and ingredients, along with other indispensable tips to take your oxtail meals to the next level.

Basic Preparation Steps

Begin by rinsing the oxtail under cold water to remove any residue. Pat them dry with paper towels to ensure proper searing. A generous rub of salt, pepper, and any other spices you pick sets the foundation for your dish. You can also marinate the oxtail overnight to deepen the flavors further.

Cooking Oxtail for Maximum Flavor and Tenderness

The secret to cooking oxtail that is both flavorful and tender lies in the low and slow cooking method. This technique ensures the collagen within the tail melts away, resulting in meat that's easy to eat. Begin with a thorough searing of the oxtail on all sides to create a rich, brown crust, an essential step in how to make beef tender. Next, transfer the oxtails to a slow cooker or a heavy-based pot. Pour in enough liquid—be it stock, wine, or water—to cover the oxtails completely. Once everything comes to a simmer, adjust the heat to low. The cooking time will depend on your method: expect 3 to 4 hours on the stove or up to 8 hours if using a slow cooker. This patient approach is key to unlocking the full potential of the oxtail, rendering it wonderfully tender and packed with taste.

Spices and Ingredients

The spices and ingredients you pair with oxtail can take your dish to new heights. Common spices include thyme, bay leaves, and allspice, which complement the meat's rich flavor. Vegetables like carrots, onions, and celery not only add depth to the broth but also serve as delicious sides. For a global twist, incorporate ingredients such as soy sauce, ginger, and star anise for an Asian-inspired flavor or tomatoes, red wine, and garlic for a European touch.

Important Tips for Cooking Oxtail

  • Low and Slow Cooking: The collagen-rich nature of oxtail requires it to be cooked gently over a long period. This process ensures the meat becomes tender and the flavors concentrate.
  • Browning is Key: Searing the oxtail before slow cooking caramelizes the surface, adding a depth of flavor that can't be achieved through simmering alone.
  • Skim the Fat: After long hours of cooking, skim off any excess fat that rises to the surface for a cleaner, more refined sauce.
  • Let it Rest: Allow the cooked oxtail to rest in its broth before serving. This resting period lets the flavors meld together more harmoniously.

Ready To Try Oxtail? Buy 100% Grass-Fed Oxtail Online

Eager to explore the unique culinary possibilities of oxtail? Don’t settle for low-quality beef. Choose regeneratively farmed 100% grass-fed oxtail from Acabonac Farms and get the best oxtail delivered right to your front door. 

Our cattle are raised on open grassy pastures, and our commitment to antibiotic-free, non-GMO, and humanely raised cattle ensures a premium product that's as ethical as it is delicious.

Frequently Asked Questions about Oxtail

Is oxtail really ox or cow?

Historically, oxtail was harvested from the tail of an ox. Today, it most commonly comes from beef cattle.

How long does it take to cook oxtail?

The low and slow cooking approach spans several hours ensuring that the meat becomes exceptionally tender. Expect a cooking time ranging from 3 to 4 hours on a stove to 6 to 8 hours in a slow cooker.

Why do people love oxtail so much?

Its popularity stems from the unique combination of rich flavor and succulent texture of oxtail. The meat's high collagen content transforms into gelatin during cooking, creating a mouthfeel and depth of flavor that's hard to match.

Where can I buy oxtail?

Finding quality oxtail can be a journey, but specialty butchers and local grass-fed farms are your best bets. Acabonac Farms offers grass-fed oxtail that's renowned for its quality and flavor - delivered right to your front door.

Why is oxtail so expensive?

Oxtail is pricier than some cuts due to its high demand and relatively limited supply. Each cow has only one tail, contributing to its higher price point. 

Is oxtail fatty?

Yes, oxtail is fatty, which is integral to its appeal. The fat marbles through the meat, melting during cooking to render the oxtail succulent. The fat carries flavor and aids in the silky texture of the sauce or broth.

Is there any cultural significance associated with oxtail dishes?

Oxtail is a cultural success story. From its humble beginnings as a food of necessity to a prized delicacy today, Oxtail, a seemingly simple ingredient, has found its place on tables worldwide. Its history extends back centuries, often seen as a comfort food that symbolizes home cooking and communal dining. Oxtail's resurgence highlights a broader trend of rediscovering traditional ingredients, and as more cooks seek authentic and comforting flavors, oxtail offers a direct link to a delicious culinary heritage.

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