Ox tail by definition is a castrated cow. In line with capon, why is it that removing the testicles of farm animals increases their flavor and culinary value? That is a question for another day. Today I want to examine ox-tail alone. I have been a huge fan of ox-tails since I first worked with them 7 years ago. As a young cook, to find a piece of meat that actually resembles a part of an animal is very exciting. While we are not sick in the head, nor ignorant of the fact that meat comes from animals, it is not very often in the modern kitchen that a piece of meat comes in and is identifiable on an animal, chicken wings aside.
Ox-tails take a lot of work. The meat is intertwined with a very gelatinous material that takes a very long cook time and manual tearing to separate the meat from the bone. The tail is a direct extension of the spine, and we all understand vertebrae, so tail is most often sold in vertebrae-sized segments, about 3 inches thick. I on the other hand purchased whole tails and I can see the yield is much more efficient. I cooked my ox-tails in a mixture of apple juice, onion and garlic for 4 hours at 350 degrees; at that point I took out the thin half of the tails. I cooked the thick "butt" end of the tail for another hour. It is very important to pick the meat off the bones before they are cold. Once cold the meat, gelatinous material and bone all join together again, like a family reunion. The meat needs to be chopped up a little bit and looked over for small bones. The tail bones and gelatin that they still hold are very useful to me. I make an ox-tail stock with the picked bones. I would add veggies for flavor, but at this point we are extracting a lot of gelatin, a lot of body for the final stew. We are making something much harder than a chicken soup.
In the end I have my chopped meat, and a very thick, very gelatinous, stick-to-your-ribs stock. I think the best thing to do with something so hardy is adding something sharp, something spicy!! We take the meat, garlic, ginger and lemongrass and sautee'd them together, until a fragrance of East Asia consumes you. Then a bit of Thai style green curry. Wow, my nose is gonna explode is what youre thinking. Then for the last half hour we add a small dice of onion, carrot, celery, and bell pepper, adjust the spice, and reserve a few bowls for ourselves. Let me tell you, if you go a restaurant and see the staff eating, this is a good thing, it means the food doesn't suck!!!