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In search of great Oxtail - what is the secret of boosting flavour

Come on you specialists show me how to make really flavorful great oxtail.

I am so frustrated. I have tried using a 2 day red wine marinade and followed half a dozen recipes. It is very nice - beautifully cooked in my Dutch Oven - but not great oxtail like I have had in a restaurant. It lacks flavor.

I am beginning to believe that the reduction at the end is the crucial stage?

Maybe the Heston Blumenthal oxtail is the best recipe? I have even seen one surprising suggestion of browning first and then adding oxtail to the marinade!

So please lets see how you do it.

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  1. Unless I am making Chinese oxtail soup (which I highly recommend by the way), I brown my oxtail first and then braise.

    Begin by seasoning some flour with your choices of spices and what not (e.g. cayenne pepper, cumin, salt, garlic salt, etc.). Then dredge your oxtail in the flour mixture and then brown them, either in your pan or in a preheated oven.

    Then braise in a red wine with your typical aromatics like onion, leeks, garlic cloves, carrots, celery, etc. I also like to add a couple of chunks of ginger to the mix, but that's a personal preference. I like to braise it for at least a couple of hourse (sometimes as long as 3.5 hours) until the liquid has reduced to a nice thick consistency.

    No matter how you do it, getting the most flavor out of oxtail starts with browning them first.

    Good luck.

    20 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      I find that the browning that occurs during long cooking is as effective, if not more so, than any browning at the start. This does not occur if the meat is kept well immersed, but in a braise the meat is partially exposed to the hot air above the liquid, and develops a good color with time.

      I also cook meat like this in several stages. The focus of the first is to cook it till tender (or nearly so). Then it goes into the fridge. At a later time I'll remove the fat, add aromatics (sauteed vegetables), and focus on developing flavor.

      Are you salting well enough? There have been threads about how salty restaurant food is compared to home cooking. Blandness in home cooking is often traced to undersalting. I like to add salt until the other flavors 'pop'.

      1. re: paulj

        Paulj : I am probably under salting! Thanks for this.

      2. re: ipsedixit

        Thank you - that is a good tip on ginger. My favourite too!

        What is your view on the level of liquid surrounding the oxtail? Some chefs seem to say half way up while others say nearly cover.

        1. re: Mistral

          I usually try to cover my oxtails with the liquid (wine and stock). Bring to a boil, then simmer and simmer and simmer ...

          Good luck and enjoy.

          1. re: Mistral

            If you cover in liquid, make sure your oxtail takes up most of the pan - in other words, braise in a pan not much wider than your oxtail.

          2. re: ipsedixit

            ipsedixit - Could you please share your Chinese Oxtail Soup recipe?

            1. re: Jen76

              Sure, here it is:


              2-3 fresh oxtails
              2 large onion
              1 head of cabbage
              2-3 large carrots
              3-4 large tomatoes
              5-6 stalks of celery

              Blanche (or parboil) the oxtails.

              Then add the oxtail to a large pot of boiling water that will be the base of your soup.

              Wash and chop all vegetables into large chunks

              In a shallow pan, brown the potatoes and onions until the edges are crispy (optional step, but it brings out the flavors of the vegetables when cooked in the soup)

              Then throw everything into your soup pot

              Bring the pot of water to a vigorous boil, then lower the heat so that the soup simmers at a gentle boil for at 90 minutes (if not more). The longer you boil it, the tastier the soup. It is best eaten with the beef is falling off the bones.

              Salt and pepper (white ground pepper) to taste before removing from the stove.

              Regrigerate overnight if you want to skim off the layer of fat. I personally like that layer of fat, but this is personal.

              Good luck and enjoy.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Regular green cabbage? This sounds very simple and yummy. I love soups so will definitely give this a try. Thanks!

                1. re: Jen76

                  Yup, regular American green cabbage. Honestly, you can really use any type of veggies that are in season (sometimes I'll use jicama instead of potatoes for example). I would just avoid strong flavored veggies, things like kale, which can overpower your soup.

                  Good luck.

                2. re: ipsedixit

                  Similar to my mother-in-law's except she doesn't use cabbage and celery and adds ginger. Really simple but very tasty.

                3. re: Jen76

                  Not ipsedixit.
                  Oxtails covered with water, carrots, celery, white onion, shitake mushrooms, Chinese dry orange peel size of a quarter, slice of ginger size of a quarter, couple tablespoons of soy sauce, black pepper, green onion garnish, and cilantro garnish.

                  1. re: monku

                    Thanks, monku. Will try your version as well! Sounds good. But, I'm not sure I can find the Chinese dry orange peel. Could I use orange zest from an orange off one of our trees instead?

                    1. re: Jen76

                      I just made a Crete style pork and chickpeas recipe that called for orange zest. I used that plus some pieces of this dried orange peel (soaked in boiling water). Initially I thought I'd gotten too much of the bitter orange pith, either from the fresh zest or the dried. But by the time the dish was done (using cubed pork shoulder), the bitter note gave the dish a distinctive flavor without being unpleasant.

                      The dried peel appears to be just that - dry stiff pieces of orange peel, from thin skin oranges, black on the outside, lighter on the pith side. No evidence of special processing or trimming. A quarter size piece is going to add a hint of the bitter orange flavor, not the more delicate aroma of zest.

                      1. re: Jen76

                        I'm wondering if you could dry an orange peel and use it. There's a different flavor profile it adds than orange zest would. It's basically an aromatic...you could probably get away with using a dry bay leaf.

                        1. re: monku

                          Yes, easy, instead of searching out the Chinese dried peel. Remove peel from washed oranges with sharp knife or vegetable peeler, leaving pith behind, or peel and scrape off pith with spoon, cut into strips or whatever size you want, dry in 150° oven until done. Store well wrapped against moisture in dry, dark place and reconstitute before using, although when I add it to a braised dish, rehydrating is not necessary. In the winter when it's dry in the house, I leave the orange peels in a bowl on the counter until they're dried.

                          Dried peel has a stronger flavor than fresh zest.

                          1. re: bushwickgirl

                            You're right it's a stronger flavor and not a bright flavor like a zest.

                            I just checked the small bag (what I thought was a lifetime supply) of Chinese dry orange peel in the pantry and it seems to have lost it's scent.

                            1. re: monku

                              Maybe time to make a fresh batch? Although I don't think loss of scent is an indication that it's lost it's flavor, you'd have to try some in a dish to see.

                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                You might be right about maybe not losing flavor. I'll put some in water and see if it still got life.
                                Otherwise I've got some oranges that I can get a start on making some home made dried orange peel.

                                1. re: monku

                                  Even scentless dried orange peel still retains its flavor.

                          2. re: monku

                            Pretty sure I can dry an orange peel in the hot, dry sun and heat outside! Will have to give that a whirl.

                  2. If you've followed multiple recipes and you're consistently feeling like something is missing, I wonder if there is some common basic technique that you're missing or just not quite pulling off.

                    It's always hard to interpret a statement like 'it lacks flavor,' at least as far as troubleshooting a recipe goes. You may not be adding enough salt, sugar, or acid to make the flavors and aromas you've developed pop on the tongue. That would be an easy fix- just adjust to taste right before serving.

                    Similarly, you may not be browning the meat enough, and thus not creating enough savory flavor and depth. Reading your post, this struck me as your most likely problem.

                    Restaurants are famously unafraid to use large amounts of fat in their recipes. It's possible that all you're missing when braising oxtail at home is a big hunk of butter mounted into the sauce just before service.

                    Your ingredients could be a problem - if your aromatics are stale, you could be depriving your oxtail dish of most of its top-notes. If you feel your dish needs more of an herbal kick, try withholding some fresh herb until right before service.

                    If your recipes call for stock and you're using store-bought salty brown water, that might also be your problem. Good restaurants make their own. Better stock would go a long way to creating a fuller flavor. I make demi-glace from dark chicken stock every couple of months, freeze it in ice cube trays, and add it in small amounts to any sauce that needs more backbone. It's a great little trick to elevate a lot of what comes out of my kitchen.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      Adding butter to an oxtail stew is gilding the lily. My problem with oxtails is too much fat, as opposed to not enough. I usually don't add beans to my chili, but I find that black beans are good addition when I make the chili with oxtail because they absorb some of that excess fat.

                      To me using stock in an oxtail stew is a case of carrying coals to Newcastle. The meat, bones and cartilage should provide enough of that same flavor and gelatin that a good stock has.

                      I might add that I like to cook the oxtails till the cartilage rings start to separate from the bone. Sometimes I'll separate the meat and fat from the bones, and cook the bones longer to extract more flavor.

                      1. re: paulj

                        It wouldn't be unheard of for a restaurant to skim the natural fat off a sauce and then still mount with butter at the end just to get a better emulsion and get some air into the sauce.

                        Quote: 'To me using stock in an oxtail stew is a case of carrying coals to Newcastle. The meat, bones and cartilage should provide enough of that same flavor and gelatin that a good stock has.'

                        Once again, though you can certainly braise oxtail without stock, it is far from unheard of for a restaurant to braise an oxtail in it. A solid half of the recipes I see for oxtail call for stock to some extent. Matter of preference.

                      2. re: cowboyardee

                        Interesting tips here.

                        My aromatics are fresh - I pay a premium for the best.

                        I am not using my own stock due to time considerations at the moment - yes it is store bought - I am sure home made would be far better.

                        I am probably missing fat too - butter mounting sounds good.

                      3. To quote Mario Batali, the difference between good restaurant cooking and bad home cooking is the level of browning achieved. Make sure your meat is a deep, deep dark brown. Proper browning takes a long time. I tend to avoid dredging in flour first. I find that the flour burns much too quickly, and burned flour in a pot even before you really get cooking is no way to start a long braise.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Shaw Oliver

                          Actually, the "difference between good restaurant cooking and bad home cooking is the" amount of butter used.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Yes and no. I assume you're half-way joking? Restaurants certainly do use quite a bit of butter, salt, etc. but there is real truth to browning properly. Often people only get a little bit of golden color and consider that "brown." Real browning takes lots of time and I have taken more than 20 minutes sometimes to brown pieces of pork shoulder properly.

                        2. Reading the replies so far, I have these thoughts: (1) I go along with those who commend careful browning; (2) I'm thinking about under-salting as an issue (you mentioned this possibility); and (3) there might be something to be gained from the flavor profile in the braise, like adding some tomato paste and anchovy (or a few splashes of fish sauce) in addition to the herbs/spices.

                          1. Make sure you get a heavy sear on these first, as in saute them until they are golden all the way around. When you are about 2/3 of the way through the browning process- add some tomato paste to them and let them finish up with the tomato paste. Take them out and add your aromatics (I'm guessing carrots, celery, onion for you?) and cook with some garlic and herbs. Deglaze the pan and add some stock and add the oxtails back in. Simmer and let reduce.

                            The marinating for 2 days won't do much as the marinade won't penetrate the meat any deeper after a couple of hours. Also, if you feel you are missing something, add a little acid (some vinegar) and make sure it's seasoned properly (salt and pepper).

                            1. To echo the other posters and to simplify things a bit: proper seasoning, deep caramelization, use a good flavored stock for braising, an acid and aromatics for depth of flavor; skim the fat (there will be fat); reduce the sauce, finish by checking for seasoning and adding butter for enrichment. I find marinating oxtails to be optional. Braises like this are always better the next day.

                              1. Another trick is to let it sit overnight in the fridge -- then add fresh veggies and reheat and serve the next day.

                                1. Bittersweet cocoa--I kid you not!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: mnosyne

                                    Such useful info. Thank You all!

                                  2. I love oxtail and always cook it in stout (Guinness etc) rather than wine, for a really robust 'dark' flavour. Delia Smith has a fabulous recipe like this which includes large flat mushrooms and cannellini beans too.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: flashria

                                      Great idea! I found the recipe. I often cook Jamie Oliver's beef stew done in Guinness which is excellent. Never thought of using it for oxtail

                                    2. I totally agree with paulj about the salting issue.

                                      I love oxtail soups/stews and here are a few things I do and get a full bodied broth: cover the oxtail with water, but just enough, not too much. You can add a little more water later if need be, but your water should be filled to the brim with oxtails. I add in whole (unground) garam masalas, a little ginger and garlic, one or two onions, one or two dried red chiles (the end result won't be spicy-hot, but will have a hint of chile. I also add one firm tomato. When I strain the broth, it is still clear, the tomato only adds flavor and does not color the broth. I have never had a problem with flat oxtail flavor.

                                      1. The best oxtails I ever made (or ate, for that matter) were from Molly Stevens’s “All About Braising.” Here are a few tips from her recipe that differ from many others. (1) She browns the oxtails under the broiler. I find it easier to get them really dark brown that way, but you do have to make sure they don’t start to char. (2) She adds pancetta to the aromatics, stirs in tomato paste, and then adds coarsely chopped porcini mushrooms (saving the strained soaking liquid to add to the braising liquid). (3) She deglazes the pan with grappa or brandy. (4) After adding the marinade to the deglazed pot, she reduces it by half in two separate stages before adding the oxtails.

                                        This is a really great recipe and well worth searching out. It’s hard for me to imagine that the depth of flavor could be surpassed. Here’s an adaptation someone posted on the Web, but the poster has either changed or not specified some of the ingredients (cremini mushrooms for porcinis, e.g.). Molly’s recipe goes into much more detail.


                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: JoanN

                                          I think browning in the pan is best for the fond it creates, though you do get some of this from the surface of the meat as well. As for mushrooms, you're dead on! the savory depth they add to the flavor will help a lot.

                                          Sometimes when Ibraise a roast, I make a "starter stock" with oxtails to lend body to the final braise. I do it a day ahead and chill the tails in the liquid. Then I add the pulled meat to to final braise when serving, or at least as much as I haven't eaten while everyone else in the house is asleep. ; )

                                          1. re: LeroyT

                                            The fond in this recipe comes from the pancetta and sauteed tomato paste, but I take your point.

                                            Starter stock is an interesting idea. Usually, if I don't have veal or beef stock on hand, I'll buy a veal demi-glace and use that as the basis for the stock (admitting that I'm within walking distance of Citarella and their veal demi-glace is almost every bit as good as homemade).

                                          2. re: JoanN

                                            Interesting ideas in that recipe, Joan. It reminds me of something I didn't think to mention in my initial response: porcini mushrooms and also the soaking juice are really valuable in this kind of dish. Also in dishes, like cacciatore, that do not cook quite so long.

                                            I find that significantly reducing the porcini soaking fluid (after straining, of course) really gives a bang of flavor without introducing too much moisture. Porcini fluid is also great when stored away as ice cubes for future cooking.

                                            1. re: JoanN

                                              This dish is in my oven as I type this. First time I've made it. The flavor of the liquid was already incredible before I added the meat. This recipe is the kind that, IMO, shows that using a recipe is often or generally or mostly better than winging it. The flavor combinations she uses and the multiple reductions are just terrific.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                I heartily agree. It's why I collect cookbooks and use recipes. There are a whole lot of people out there way smarter than I about cooking and I'm happy to follow them in humble obeisance. Molly Stevens is a prime example. You're gonna love it.

                                                1. re: JoanN

                                                  Morning after report :) This is hands-down the best oxtail dish we've ever eaten and honestly one of the best things I've ever cooked. The kind of dish that you have in a restaurant and say 'wow, if only I could fix something like this at home.' Like you, JoanN, life has been kinda busy for us and, although I've had this book for quite a while, I'd barely looked at it. I think it's going to be my go-to for quite a while, esp. now that winter has arrived.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Pleased, but not in the least surprised, to read this. Next up, consider the Short Ribs Braised in Porter Ale with Maple-Rosemary Glaze. Could be one of the second best things you've ever cooked. ;-)

                                              2. re: JoanN

                                                Just compared the recipes. She leftout the allspice berries (1/2 t) which I think definitely contributed to the overall flavor. She also used a half a head of celery rather than one stalk which I think is too much. And, as you say, lacking a lot of the detail but at least people can cook it from this. Thanks for making the effort to find it.

                                              3. I agree with others that you are probably underbrowning (you really should brown in batches or the meat will steam) and not using enough salt. Oxtails do generate a lot of fat and should be skimmed before serving. I know people say fat adds flavor. But when you have too much fat, it just dilutes the seasonings and things just taste greasy. My favorite recipe (thanks to moh and Mr. Moh!) is Paula Wolfert's oxtail daube. Pig's feet, salt pork and serrano ham give the sauce depth of flavor and body. It is a lot of work -- a two-day process, but, oh, so worth it. There's a recipe on chow.


                                                1. I hit 'ctrl F' and typed in SOFRITO and it said 'no matches found' in this thread...

                                                  Achiote Oil, Sofrito, low sodium Chicken Stock, dusted/browned Oxtails & short Ribs, Spice House.com salt free Adobo Seasoning (get some), lil' Red Pepper Flake, Garlic, Salt to taste (or a little Better Than Bouillion), fresh ground Black Pepper...
                                                  Simmered for 3 hours stovetop, or popped into the oven....

                                                  A potful of creamy polenta.... It's a scene man....

                                                  Daisy's Sofrito recipe... It's a good one...

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. There is a secret. And that is to do the absolute minimum to the cut. Forget marinating before or after browning. Forget complicated procedures or recipes. Brown the meat, put it in your preferred cooking device with the simplest of ingredients and spices and your results will be better. You are harboring preconceived ideas regarding marinating before this or after that. This is a simple cut that benefits from simple preparation. The best examples you have sampled followed these guidelines.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: justaddwater

                                                      So many excellent tips here. Thank You! On Monday I start to weave magic with my oxtails.

                                                      1. re: justaddwater

                                                        I would have agreed with you until yesterday when I did Molly Steven's version (see above). Amazing.

                                                      2. There is a guy on youtube that makes his oxtail with coconut oil and then he adds two cans of Guiness beer to this mix it looks as though it tastes as good as it looks. Let me find the video,,
                                                        Here it is:


                                                        Also here is another video it might be french style. I have mad it 3 times and always use parsnips with it because i keep forgetting it is celery root i am supposed to buy at the supermarket. This last time i made it i added celery to it I had forgotten the tomatoe paste and then put it into the pot and cooked it til it blended with all the ingredients and finally it went from looking purple to brown. It was delicious. Make sure u make the gromolotta for the garnish it is so yummy. Good luck :)