I’m trying my best
This is a recipe for oxtail that I’ve come up with over the past few years. It’s home cooking from someone who doesn’t have this dish as a part of his home tradition at all.
I just read a recipe online a few years ago and then forgot half of it and asked the guy who grills chicken outside the hair salon next to my building last fall and forgot some other parts of it and had it filled in again by a few nice old ladies at my neighborhood butcher shop.
Is it authentic Caribbean cuisine? Probably not. “Authentic” is a weird designation, though.
What if your pizza at some “authentic” place in Little Italy was made by a Mexican prep cook who chopped everything up, an Italian guy who got high in the walk-in and screwed up the dough a little bit but he’s the owner’s kid, so another cook from the Czech Republic who actually gives a shit about pizza had to cover it up? What if my Cuban friendAlexis Guerreros took you to the pizza place on one of his pizza tours in the first place?
Can anyone make a pie graph of the authenticity there?
Here’s the recipe. I hope you make it, and I hope you like it.
- 2 pounds oxtail
- 8–10 sprigs of thyme. Better too much than too little. My corner grocery sells baggies of fresh thyme for a buck fifty, and I used almost the whole thing for 4 pounds of oxtail. So whatever half almost the whole baggie of a buck fifty’s worth of fresh thyme is, use that.
- 4–8 sprigs fresh rosemary
- kosher salt — maybe a cup.
- a Coca-Cola. I used a tall glass bottle of Coke because they were 2 for one at the corner store and I really like Coke from a glass bottle. It really doesn’t matter what it comes out of, though. Or what goes in it, as long as it’s sold as Coca-Cola.
- I don’t fool around with Mexican Coke, though. I mean, I’ve had it, and I guess I liked it fine, but I honestly don’t drink Coke often enough to really be able to tell the difference between Mexican Coke and American Cancer Coke.
- And if you’re the kind of person who really obsesses about whether or not your Coca-Cola is Mexican, we really are not going to get along very well beyond a surface level. We might agree on a lot of the same stuff politically, may even watch the same TV shows, but beyond that I’m likely to think you’re a real pain in the ass.
- I don’t know if that’s a big deal in the rest of the country, but up here in NYC for a little while, people were really obsessing about getting Mexican Coke and like, favorably reviewing certain “authentic” Mexican places in Williamsburg that also served tacos the size of a half-dollar just to do it.
- This is bullshit. I love good food, love learning about, cooking, and eating good food, but nothing makes me want to swan-dive into the mac and cheese vat at a Golden Corral quite like someone who gets way too into this.
- 1–2 scotch bonnet peppers. I used 2 on 4 pounds of oxtail and the heat worked out pretty well.
- 2–3 tbsp brown sugar
- the juice from 3–4 limes. If the only limes you have are kind of like juicy callouses on the inside like mine were, use 6.
- 4–8 cloves of garlic
- a piece of ginger the size of a large man’s thumb, skinned and peeled.
To clarify: the ginger should be the size of a large man’s thumb that has then had the skin stripped from it.
There is a Scandinavian bodybuilder who is so large that his nickname, when translated into English, is “penis-fingers.” The piece of ginger, after it has been peeled, needs to be the size of a man nicknamed “penis-fingers’” thumb after its skin has been removed.
I don’t know why this has to be this way, but it just does. I didn’t make this part up, but this recipe was passed down to me from a mythical Caribbean great-grandmother that I definitely just made up.
- 6 scallions, chopped up from the white end 3/4 of the way
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp allspice
- 1 tbsp nutmeg
I just use “1 tbsp” as a stand-in for several really solid shakes. I have no idea how much actually comes out of the jar when I do this, but that’s probably about right. Shake each one of these spices in there until you go “that seems about right.”
- one medium-sized onion, chopped into circles. Not chunks, circles.
- 2 large carrots
- 2 large potatoes or like eight small red ones
- 2 stalks celery
Put the oxtail in a large bowl or Ziplock bag. You can use the off-brand Ziplocks from the bodega if you want, but you’re gonna get a juicy refrigerator out of it. Ikea makes bags that are big and strong enough to double as sleeping bags. I’ve been washing one out like a Holocaust survivor for four years and it’s still up to the job.
Shake a bunch of kosher salt onto the oxtail and stir it around until the oxtail is covered. Not covered like, submerge it as though the salt is sand and the oxtail are the alien ships that really built the pyramids. But cover it the way that snow covers stuff in the South and they cancel school and go crash their cars and people up North laugh about it.
Use enough to cover the oxtail with a solid white dusting and make you worry a little bit about your blood pressure.
Let that sit for at least 40 minutes, up to an hour.
It will draw the juices out of the oxtail within about 20 minutes. Stir it around and let it sit some more. Then those delicious salty juices will soak back into the meat, and the meat will be thirsty for more of the marinade you’re about to pour onto it.
It really helps to have a blender or food processor here, but it’s far from mandatory. I’m going to write this part as though you have the same Ninja blender I do, but if you don’t, just chop everything as finely as possible and stir it all together.
Get the leaves off the thyme and rosemary stalks and chop it as finely as you can. There’s no way that you can separate all the thyme from the branches without getting little bits of thyme-branch in there, and that’s fine. Put it in the food processor, along with the ginger, garlic, scallions, sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, hot peppers, lime juice and Coca-Cola.
Grind it all up until you have a thick and gorgeous brown liquid with green flecks floating in it. Taste it. It should taste like a bouillon cube made from the entire earth. Don’t worry, a lot of this is going to break down during the 8-hour cooking process.
Pour this over the salted oxtail, completely submerging it. If you’re marinating the oxtail in a Ziplock bag, carefully squeeze all the extra air out before sealing it so you get maximum juice coverage.
Marinate this for several hours, overnight if possible.
The next morning, set up your Crock Pot and get out a large cast iron skillet. Turn the flame onto that thing as high as it will go and heat it until it scares you. Get the oxtail out of the fridge and set it on one side of the skillet. Put the Crock Pot on the other side.
Chop that onion into large rings like we talked about earlier. Have those very handy, along with a pair of tongs. Put a little butter into the now screaming-hot skillet. Throw in all the onion and keep it moving until it wilts a little.
Move the onion to the side and clear a spot for the oxtail. Let the skillet heat back up. Quickly place as much oxtail onto the empty space as you can. The point here is to sear/brown the outside without really cooking the interior much. By the time you’ve put down enough oxtail to fill the space, it’s going to be time to use tongs to sear the other side(s) of your first pieces. Once you’ve seared all sides, throw it into the Crock Pot.
Then, stir the onions around in the grease and marinade left behind. Let the pan heat up, then repeat the process. Do this for all of the oxtail.
Bury those onion circles cooked in oxtail grease under a thick layer of oxtail meat. Leave the skillet on the stove, don’t clean it.
You should have this soup of leftover marinade in the bowl/bag. Pour some of it into the iron skillet, bring it down to medium-high. You’re making a reduction here, deglazing the skillet. Scrape up all the bits of whatever is on the bottom of the pan and swirl it all around until you get a syrupy paste. Throw that in the Crock Pot with the oxtail, and continue with the rest of the leftover marinade.
Put the lid on the Crock Pot, set it to low and cook it for 8 hours. Try not to peek under the lid too much in the first few hours, as it takes a while for the heat to really build up in there.
Your house is going to start to smell *incredible*, and you may want to just breathe deeply and pace the place for the next eight hours. That’s not a terrible idea, and a very good way to start a meditation practice.
After about six hours, chop up the carrots, celery and potatoes and stir them into the pot. The idea here is that you want to cook them through without totally turning them to mush.
When 8 hours passes, you’re almost done. Turn off the Crock Pot and move it back over to the stove, next to that cast iron skillet.
Heat up that cast iron skillet, melt a bunch of butter in it, then throw in a handful of flour, and whisk it so it doesn’t clump. Pour in a little milk. The more sophisticated cooks among you might be saying “hey, he’s making a roux right now,” and I guess you get to feel a little proud of yourself, sure.
Before that gets too thick, take a ladle and start ladling out the juice from the Crock Pot and whisk it into the skillet. Keep going until it’s all in there, and keep the whisk moving. You want this to be thick, like a nearly runny gravy. Once it’s all in there, put about half the oxtail and vegetables from the Crock Pot into the skillet and stir it until everything’s coated.
Serve this over coconut rice and peas, made like this:
- 1 can pigeon peas
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 cup rice
Make sure the coconut milk and the liquid from the pigeon peas totals 2 cups of liquid. Boil that, then thrown the rice and the drained pigeon peas in there. Reduce the heat and simmer it until the rice is however you like your rice.