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Dec 20, 2003 11:45 PM

Are oxtails worh it?

  • l

I have heard that oxtails are the gold standard for Asian beef broths. For example, most of the ph'o recipes call for an oxtail broth enriched with lemon grass.

Oxtails are very expensive, though. In my neighborhood, they run about $4-6/lb. That means that a decent sized pot of oxtail soup would costs about ten bucks.

What is so special about the tails? Can I substitute cheaper beef parts with similar results? I imagine the tail has a lot of collagen, which might give the soup extra body. But is the flavor of oxtails different?

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  1. I know what you mean about the price. Oxtails used to be very cheap until stores caught on that people liked them. Then the price went up.

    They basically taste like beef. However, because of the extra fat, gelatin, and so on, they produce an incredibly rich stock or stew and the meat, when stewed, has a better texture than most beef.

    The next best substitute for stock is calf's foot or some variation on that with a fully-grown steer carcass (I think referred to as ox-heel, but I'm not sure). You usually have to request them specially, as they're not sold much, so let your butcher know in advance you want them. I don't know what they sell for, but as they're a less popular cut (because of the look) they're likely less expensive.

    Next to calves foot, try shin of beef or shank. This is also a stewing cut, usually sold cheaply, which contains a lot of connective tissue. It produces a reasonably rich gravy. Again, it's a less popular cut because it needs a long stewing time, so you will likely have to request it. I've bought it a few times, and it sells relatively cheaply.

    A good boeuf a la bourguignonne uses one or two calves feet stewed in with the rest of the ingredients to provide a rich gravy. If you can't get calves feet, the next best substitution is ox-tail, so I imagine it works the other way.

    Good luck.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Colleen

      Duly noted, Colleen. Thanks for all the excellent advice. I will report back.

    2. I guess it sometimes it pays to live in a small town. I've never paid higher than about $2.89/lb. for oxtails.

      1. I've never made oxtail soup, but when I've had it in restaurants it has always been quite a treat.

        1. Try a Mexican meat market to buy oxtails.

          9 Replies
          1. re: Zoe

            Or any other latin, african or caribbean market. $4-6 a pound is crazy!

            1. re: dc

              I have never paid more than $3 per lb for them. However, I don't shop at Kroger's/Albertsons/Safeway where some of the "butchers" do not even know what they are.

              Generally, my best luck has been getting them at a Mexican market when they are on sale. Here in Chicago, I have found that it is very helpful if you know the Spanish words for the cut that you want. That effort (from us Anglos) tends to get very good results from the butchers who often have problems understanding English.

              1. re: jlawrence01

                Oxtail in Spanish is "rabo de toro" or "rabo de buey."

                But do be careful in how you ask for it... "rabo" is also a slang term for "penis" and "buey" is a slang term for "guy." Lots of potential for double entendre if you use the wrong tone...

                1. re: butterfly

                  That's why I just POINT!! At the SuperMercado on Whittier Blvd. in "East Los" Angeles, there is a dizzying array of beef cuts/organ meats all very fresh (huge daily turnover) - and great prices. Boneless chicken thighs are 89 cents a pound on Thursdays.

                  1. re: Zoe

                    I am paying $2.59 /lb when I buy it straight from the producer at Sorg's in Darien, WI. I remember paying something like $1.89/lb at Moo & Oink, an interesting meat market in the southside of Chicago. But the last time, I got them at LaRosita Market in Crystal Lake, IL for $0.99/ lb.

                    My great-aunts and uncles always raved regarding oxtail stew when I was a kid. Never made it, never tried it until this year. Looked at 50 recipes on the web and kind of made up my own based on the ingredients and boosted it with some good port wine. The results that evening were pretty bad - acyually, not that bad, but nothing special. After two days in the refrigerator, my wife put it into my lunch. I thought I died and went to heaven. It was outstanding. Served somemore to my wife that evening and she agrees - the flavor was phenomenal!!

                    I am waiting for my next trip into Chicago.

                    One point. Make sure that you get a good look at the oxtails. You want the bones closest to teh rest of the body of the as there is generally a lot of meat. Avoid the end cuts which offer little meat and flavor.

                  2. re: butterfly

                    Rabo can be slang for butt/behind, not penis.

                    Speaking of price, price per pound has gone up significantly as more people have discovered oxtails.

                    I think whatever price you pay is absolutely worth it. With minimal prep. work you can have a truly outstanding stew. On the down side, you do have to cook it for a looooong time over a low flame but the results are practically fool-proof.

                    --Maria (an oxtail fanatic)

                    1. re: Maria

                      Maybe the rabo/penis thing is just Castilian slang. I definitely heard it in Spain. Lots of jokes about cutting off rabos, throwing rabo into a pot, and such.

                      Speaking of pots, does anyone cook oxtails in a crockpot? Seems like that would be a good way to do them.

                      1. re: butterfly

                        Actually the slang for penis in Spain is polla.
                        Rabo is definitely a very sexual term so it's possible you missunderstood.


                        1. re: Maria

                          Not to belabor a point (or veer way off topic!), but the word "rabo" really is used for "penis", at least in certain countries and age groups. See definition below...

                          I think it's a younger generational thing, as I remember my SO's Spanish cousin telling a story about his mom not knowing what it meant and saying all kinds of hilarious and clueless things while teaching them how to make oxtail soup.


            2. It is the collagen and very beefy flavor that makes oxtails and other formerly cheap cuts (like short ribs) so flavorful. Some big time chefs let the cat out of the bag, and now the cuts are expensive.

              You could go with a chuck roast (the 7 bone cut), maybe add a beef shank for extra collagen.