Jamaican Oxtail Stew

I've been eating oxtail my whole life, my niece, who is only two years old now, has been eating oxtail stew since she could chew. My mom was taught by my grandmother - as grandmothers do - and my mom taught me the same way. Vaguely.

If I want to know how to make anything that is considered a family recipe around here I better stand over a lot of shoulders, take a lot of notes and do my best at recreating it on my own through trial and error.

The hardest part about learning these family recipes is that in terms of ingredients it is astonishingly simple, but the final product is rich and robust with flavor.

I've always been pretty confused by how that happens. How do five ingredients make something so wonderful? Most likely it's the cut of meat, a lot of Jamaican food is made of cuts that were not the best. These are scrap foods, necessity foods that have born a world of delicious flavors that have travelled the world over. I doubt anyone looked at the meaty chopped cuts off a cow and thought "you know what looks delicious? THE TAIL" but if they did, good for them because they were right. The tail is delicious.

An aside here, I happened to google something about oxtail and some of the results were, "is oxtail really a tail??" I laughed for awhile, but yes, oxtail is actually a tail. It's no longer exclusively an ox but comes from a cow of either sex.

It's fatty and gelatinous due to all of the bone marrow and it makes a thick gravy for pouring over rice. Of course because of all the bones in this cut it takes a long time to cook to make it tender and submerging it in a broth or water and cooking in a tightly sealed pot but that only means more time for your house to smell amazing.

For the most part I've left these meals to my mom and grandmother. I'm lucky that I still have them both, so I avoid stepping on their kitchen territory and I sneak bites of food from the pot and watch over their shoulders.

When I moved to LA I suddenly craved all the dishes from home. Not that I didn't crave them before, it's just that they were always there and I could always show up at home and they'd be there or take a short walk or a short drive and find a local Jamaican spot to satiate the need. While I was in LA I never really found a Jamaican spot that made me happy. If I did I felt they were overpriced (probably because they were kind of few and far between) and they simply were not as good as home.

At that point I made it my mission to turn some of those mom recipes into my recipes. I had made them myself over the years and stirred and checked and watched many a pot when it was asked of me so my recipes are born of much similarity with a few tweaks and additions. For example, my mom doesn't use browning in her oxtail but I like it. I make my own browning usually but it is pretty much caramelized sugar, so it does add a sweetness that the store-bought version does not.

4-5 lbs of oxtail, trimmed of excess fat
4 tbsp neutral oil, for searing
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
2 medium onions, sliced
5 medium cloves of garlic, crushed
10-12 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsps hot pepper sauce (optional)
2 cans butter/lima beans, drained
1 qt of beef broth or water
3 medium carrots, sliced
4-5 scallion, ends trimmed
3 tbsp browning seasoning sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Slice onion, carrots and chop garlic, set aside individually. Trim excess fat from the oxtail, season with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder and refrigerate for a few hours, but overnight is best. Brown the oxtail on all sides in oil, removing from the pan and setting aside until they have all been finished.

Add onion to the pot and saute until translucent, add garlic and nestle the oxtail back into the pan. Mix browning sauce into water or beef broth and pour over the oxtail until just covered. Bring to a gentle simmer and cover. Let cook for 2-3 hours until meat is tender, check frequently, especially if you're unsure of how tightly your pot closes, add water if if dips below the level of the oxtail for the first 2 hours. Meat should begin to visibly and slightly separate from the bone, too much fall off means you've over cooked it.

In the last 30 minutes add the sliced carrots, pepper sauce - if you're using, scallion and 2 cans of butter beans, drained.

When finished serve with white rice and plantain.

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