My paternal grandmother used to make oxtail soup. When I was 6 or 7 years old I remember thinking that her “oxtail soup” must be just another name for beef vegetable soup because no one had oxen anymore. Afterall, I had seen old pictures of my maternal grandfather with his oxen pulling trees that had been cut for lumber; they were for work not food; plus he died years (3) before I was born. Besides, no one really put a tail in soup. Again, I was 6 or 7 so I was full of ….knowledge.
It turns out that my grandmother’s oxtail soup was indeed made with pieces of tail…beef steer tail a.k.a. oxtail.
The oxtail’s combination of cartilage, fat, bone, and meat makes a rich, flavorful broth for the soup.
Oxtail soup was popular in the Depression Era because of the low cost of the oxtails and other ingredients. The irony is that oxtail is no longer a throw away. When you can find it in a grocery store, it is usually a specialty or natural food store. Its popularity, and probably the fact that there is only one per steer, has increased its price per pound compared to the costs of other cuts of beef. It is still a cheaper cut, just not as cheap.
Much of the oxtail I purchased had relatively little meat, so I decided to add a couple of beef shanks to the oxtail to make about 3 lbs. total. Other than just having more meat and similar cooking times, the beef shank was also a dollar less per pound. However, do not use too many beef shanks…unless you plan to make beef shank stew. The broth you get will the oxtails is not the same as using just shanks…you need the majority of the cuts to be oxtail.
This is a VERY flexible recipe when it comes to the vegetable ingredients. Although I used tomatoes in the batch pictured above, I actually like it better when I only use tomato paste. The paste adds a brightness that is needed against the richness of the broth, meat, etc., but any additional tomatoes is just a matter of personal taste. Parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, and other root vegetables all work well in the soup…it is just a matter of personal preference or whatever you have on hand.
Wait…what about the stew? Well, the name oxtail stew is used interchangeably with this type of recipe. It cooks for hours and is rather thick, especially if you add tomatoes. You can thicken it more by adding a slurry made of 1 part corn starch to 4 parts of water during the last 20 minutes of cooking.