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Why did my braised oxtails come out tough?

g
goodeatsgal Mar 16, 2009 11:02 PM

I love braised oxtails that are tender and falling off the bone. I usually braise them on the stove, but last weekend, I decided to cook them in a crock pot. I used a recipe from Epicurious.com - Braised Oxtails with Star Anise and Chinese Greens. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo.... I used all the suggested ingredients except onion as I hadn't realized I had none in the house. I also used the suggested amount of liquid, and cooked them in the slow cooker on Low heat for 12 hours (under the theory of "the longer the more tender").

After cooking, I refrigerated the oxtails and sauce. Tonight, I removed the thick layer of fat from the sauce and reheated the oxtails in the sauce. The sauce was delicious, but the meat was very tough! What did I do wrong? Did I cook them too long? Should I have used more liquid (it reduced by half)? Could the meat itself have been of poor quality (purchased from an Asian market)? I would love to hear your thoughts on what went wrong, and any suggestions on how to "guarantee" tender oxtails. Thanks!

  1. inaplasticcup May 15, 2011 01:50 PM

    I'm in the sometimes, you just get crap tail camp, specially if yours went a whole 12 hours. When I get tails that don't tenderize after normal time and temp, I throw in a couple tablespoons of vinegar with a bit of water and let it stew another 45 - 60 mins. The acid seems to help break down the tough protein and doesn't impart too much tart if sufficiently cooked off.

    1. l
      LUV_TO_EAT May 14, 2011 11:50 AM

      Old ox is why they're tough. You have to cook them a long time.

      I use a pressure cooker for any long cooking braises - stews, ox tail, lamb shanks etc. It cooks way faster. Time depends on size of meat cuts, sometimes you cook for 15 min intervals and check it. Continue cooking if it's still too tough.

      1. g
        goodeatsgal May 13, 2011 01:53 PM

        As the OP, I've come to another possible conclusion as to why the oxtails were so tough. I've since tested my slow cooker, and it cooks way too hot. After "cooking" water for 8 hours on the low, high and even keep warm settings, the temperature was between 208 and 212. Boiling! So I think that the oxtails may have boiled for 4 or more hours. No wonder they were tough!

        I'm now on the hunt for a new (vintage) slow cooker. :-)

        10 Replies
        1. re: goodeatsgal
          alkapal May 13, 2011 02:01 PM

          your "warm" setting was boiing water? yes. time for a new one!

          another hound loves her wolfgang puck versacooker she got from hsn - you can sear, then cook at desired temp over crockpot-time periods.

          1. re: goodeatsgal
            c oliver May 14, 2011 04:15 PM

            Why vintage? The new ones are soooo much better in all ways, IMO.

            1. re: c oliver
              ursy_ten May 14, 2011 04:42 PM

              The newer ones run hotter than the vintage ones, because of some kind of legislation to do with possibility of food poisoning due to the temperature not being high enough.

              http://blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet...

              1. re: ursy_ten
                c oliver May 14, 2011 04:47 PM

                I know people mention that but my low settings work great.. I say settings cause I have two slowcookers and overheating is never a problem.

                1. re: c oliver
                  ursy_ten May 14, 2011 05:01 PM

                  You're one of the lucky ones, then.
                  It probably does vary a lot between brands.

                  1. re: ursy_ten
                    g
                    goodeatsgal May 15, 2011 10:08 PM

                    Maybe it does vary by brand, but I've read a lot of "running too hot" horror stories on the web. These stories usually refer to new slow cookers of varying brands. Conversely, I've read that the older vintage cookers take longer to heat up (which doesn't bother me) and don't get as hot (maximum temp below 200). Additionally, many of the new slow cookers have electronic controls rather than the manual knobs of the older vintage. With the manual knobs, you can set up the lamp-type timer to delay the start of cooking. I can't do that with my Rival Crock-Pot. As soon as you set it, it starts counting down the time.

                2. re: ursy_ten
                  paulj May 14, 2011 04:48 PM

                  The problem is with the long warm up time of older pots. Old ones were slow because they had low power and took half the time to warm up to cooking temperatures (about 140F). If you are comfortable with leaving your chicken at room temperature for 4 hours, you could plug a new pot into a timer.

                  1. re: paulj
                    ursy_ten May 14, 2011 05:04 PM

                    I'm actually wondering if I can do something with a timer so that it turns off periodically, like 5 minutes every half hour - thus lowering the temperature.

                    Not sure I like the chicken at room temperature for 4 hours idea though.

                    1. re: ursy_ten
                      paulj May 14, 2011 05:07 PM

                      There is a chow-tips video about hooking a temperature control to your slow cooker. The goal is to imitate an expensive sous vide cooker., but with a higher target temperature you could use it for braising.

                      1. re: paulj
                        ursy_ten May 14, 2011 05:11 PM

                        Thanks paulj, yep, I just saw that one (doing some resesarch). I've never done anything like that before so am not sure if I could pull something like that off.

            2. RWCFoodie Oct 9, 2010 11:23 AM

              Just came across this thread looking for pressure cooker recipes for oxtails. Once I had the same problem of tough oxtails that would not get tender no matter what.

              The recipe involved browning the oxtails first, then braising. I believe they "seized" - I read somewhere that this can happen especially with beef if it is browned too quickly over too high heat...

              1. stilton Mar 17, 2009 12:25 AM

                We cook oxtails regularly in our household, sometimes on the stovetop, sometimes in the slowcooker. Very occasionally, some oxtails will come along that just will not tenderize no matter how long they're cooked. My dad says it's because they're from old cattle.

                6 Replies
                1. re: stilton
                  f
                  fourunder Mar 17, 2009 06:09 AM

                  I would have to agree with (stilton). Outside of the crockpot failing at some point during the 12 hours(malfunctioning)....my thoughts are you simply got some bad beef.

                  1. re: fourunder
                    paulj Mar 17, 2009 09:12 AM

                    Even if the meat fibers remain tough, shouldn't the collagen break down with sufficient cooking? In Spain, the preferred animal for oxtail is a bull killed in the ring. In fact the name, oxtail, suggests that it commonly came from old working animals in the past. Now days, there is little reason to suspect that an oxtail in the USA comes from anything other than the common feedlot steer - regardless of store. I can't imagine rendering plants cutting off the tails just to meet the high demand for mature oxtail.

                    1. re: paulj
                      f
                      fourunder Mar 17, 2009 11:58 AM

                      paulj,

                      The answer to the collagen question would presumably be yes, but the OP is questioning the meat alone from what I read. Maybe the oxtail simply did not have any marbling in it.

                      1. re: fourunder
                        ipsedixit Mar 17, 2009 12:10 PM

                        I don't think I've seen an ox with a skinny tail ...

                        Would that be like a lean rump?

                        :-)

                        1. re: fourunder
                          g
                          goodeatsgal Mar 17, 2009 01:59 PM

                          Yes, it was just the meat that was tough. Unfortunately, I don't remember if there was any marbling on the oxtails. I'll have to remember to look for that next time. I couldn't believe they were still so tough after 12 hours in the crockpot, so maybe I did get bad meat. I feel better now! :) Thanks, everyone!

                    2. re: stilton
                      j
                      joonjoon May 15, 2011 01:39 PM

                      Yeah, I've had tail that never gets tender...it's a bummer when it happens. My mom claims this happens when they're old milk cow tail.

                    3. ipsedixit Mar 16, 2009 11:18 PM

                      12 hours???

                      I think that's just a wee bit too long.

                      I usually braise my oxtails for about 3 hours, tops.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit
                        paulj Mar 17, 2009 12:05 AM

                        That was 12 hrs in the crock pot, not stove top. I think that if they were tough, it just wasn't long enough at that temperature. It's been a long time since I used a crock pot, but experience has been that they heat up at different rates, and cook at different temperatures. So timing on a meat like this could vary widely.

                        You should be able to pull the meat off the bones with your fingers. And if the tails are really cooked well, the ends of the bones should detach from the rest.

                        I'd suggest putting the tails, meat and bones, along with the sauce, in a pot, and simmer it slowly on the stove for another hour, maybe two.

                        1. re: paulj
                          alkapal Mar 17, 2009 12:13 AM

                          add a little water?

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