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Oxtail question - how long to cook

Gooseberry Jul 2, 2009 01:00 PM

Currently thumbing through and enjoying a borrowed copy of "Appetite" by Nigel Slater. He braises a jointed oxtail with some vegetables and a cupful of wine in his oven at 160C (low oven, about 310F I think?), and says it should take two hours.

Now, my experience with oxtail (from Zuni Cafe cookbook) is that oxtail really takes four hours to cook, best even spread over two days, to really break down that glutinous tissue and get them meltingly soft.

Has anyone done this closer to the times suggested by Slater? Or is it impossible to get it really tender in less than roughly four hours in the oven?

Thanks!

  1. Will Owen Jul 2, 2009 03:11 PM

    I'd stick with what you already know. The meat will certainly be cooked in the two hours your recipe says, but a good braise gets to "done" and keeps on going to "melt"! There is the possibility that Mr. Slater simply likes his meat a bit chewy. I don't thing spreading it out over two days is necessary, but I certainly admire the attitude behind that.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Will Owen
      Sarah Jul 2, 2009 03:59 PM

      My favorite oxtail stew recipe calls for braising for 3 hrs, add veggies and cook for another hour. Comes out very tender. Once in awhile, an oxtail will just not get tender, no matter how long it's been cooked -- frustrating and mysterious!

      1. re: Will Owen
        paulj Jul 2, 2009 08:37 PM

        Ideally I cook oxtail till the cartilage caps come off the ends of the bones. Also the meat should come off cleanly, leaving very little behind.

      2. stilton Jul 3, 2009 12:28 AM

        It depends on the batch of oxtails you get. I've gotten some that cooked up in.. 4 hours sounds about right, and some that never tenderized. Same recipe and cooking method each time. It's quite annoying.

        1. Gooseberry Jul 3, 2009 08:11 AM

          Thanks for the feedback everyone. Oxtail is clearly a bit of a dark art! And best left for weekends, when I can give them the four hours they deserve.

          1. o
            oryza Jul 3, 2009 09:46 AM

            I always cook it over a period of 2 days. The first day is a quick cook. Then, I let it cool overnight in the fridge. And the next day I skim the excess fat off of the liquid and braise it for 2 hours. I think it's the cooling and cooking again is what does the trick for me. It doesn't take more time, just more planning ahead... and I never had a problem with tenderization

            1. Gooseberry Jul 16, 2009 07:50 AM

              OK, finally made oxtail (with oxtail I bought at good old fashioned oxtail prices i.e. not costing the same as steak by weight!). A new stove, slightly fiercer than my old one meant the oxtail simmered a bit harder than I'd like - and was done sooner. But 'sooner' still was 3 1/2 hours! So delicious, served with buttered tagliatelle. 2 good sized tails braised with lots of chunky veg (Carrots, baby onions, etc) fed 5.

              1. scubadoo97 Jul 16, 2009 10:01 AM

                When people ask me how long to cook something I usually say "till it's done". That is not a snarky remark but a true answer. Specifically with meats, cooking times can vary. You can have a estimate time but you need to use your own judgment based on testing the meat for doneness, whether this is done with a temperature probe or a fork tender test or a poke with your finger.

                4 Replies
                1. re: scubadoo97
                  MMRuth Jul 16, 2009 10:02 AM

                  What I have come to find useful is a sense of when to start checking.

                  1. re: MMRuth
                    Gooseberry Jul 18, 2009 09:27 AM

                    too true! especially with baked goods. The number of cakes I've ruined through not checking early enough...

                  2. re: scubadoo97
                    Gooseberry Jul 18, 2009 09:30 AM

                    You are right, of course, and I always check for doneness before saying 'it's done!'. But it's a rare occasion where an extra hour doesn't affect my schedule, whether it's the time I serve dinner, have guests arriving or need to go to work/bed/other commitment. So I tend to think of oxtail as 3.5-4hr dish, and plan accordingly. And give or take 15 minutes, I find that's been true in my experiences.

                    1. re: Gooseberry
                      scubadoo97 Jul 18, 2009 09:50 AM

                      I have seen too many people smoking briskets or pork butts end up with guests with empty plates because even with an estimated time some meats just need longer times and it's hard to predict. I"ve had little 4lb corned beefs take 10hrs in the smoker at 225-250. A recent report by someone that did a 10# butt and it took 22hrs in his Cookshack at 225. These times seem extreme but they happen

                      I have found that you can increase the temperature over what is suggested and get'er done when needed. The 310 temperature given in your post and the two hour time just doesn't add up to me. I would think you need at least 3-4 hrs at that temp but it could be shortened by increasing the temperature to 350.

                  3. ipsedixit Jul 16, 2009 11:24 AM

                    It's really hard to overcook oxtail.

                    So, I would suggest that you simply cook it until you achieve the "doneness" that you prefer and avoid slavishly following cookbooks.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ipsedixit
                      Gooseberry Jul 18, 2009 09:26 AM

                      Um, I don't 'slavishly' follow cookbooks. But if a cookbook suggests there is a way for me to do something more quickly than I'm currently doing it, I'm curious to see whether there is any merit in the suggestion or not. Hence my post, asking advice of other oxtail-experienced hounds.

                      I agree it's hard to overcook oxtail - but that certainly doesn't apply to the veg you often cook oxtail with. All the flavour (and often the texture) goes into the stew. Which is why I add half at the beginning to flavour the stew, and half an hour before the end, so mushrooms, bay carrots, etc. are not overcooked.

                      And while I do know how done oxtail should be, it's worth noting that many first-timers cooking something they have not eaten before do NOT know 'how done is done'. In which case, cookbooks are helpful.

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