The Dish: Rabo de Toro or Oxtail Stew
Over the past couple of years I’ve developed a culinary fascination with what different cultures do with cheap cuts of meat. The stewing, the braising, and the simple slow-cooking of often tough, sinewy, or bony meats that people originally ate out of financial necessity has been intriguing me.
Many of these dishes have risen above their station and become regional specialties. Bœuf bourguignon from Burgundy in France, osso bucco from northern Italy, tagine from Morocco, and beef rendang from Indonesia, are all examples of dishes that began quite humbly and developed into taste sensations. These are also dishes that quite often taste better coming from a skilled and experienced home cook than they do from a chef in a restaurant!
So what do these dishes have in common besides big, earthy flavours? Mainly slow cooking – and by this we mean hours of slow cooking – and often an overnight stay in the fridge to let the flavours come together.
Just like the tajine I made recently in Morocco, these are not dishes you start thinking about making at 6.30pm and expect to serve the same night. If you attempt one of these at 6.30pm, you had better have the number of a pizza place on speed dial. However, while these are dishes that do take time, they don’t necessarily require effort, or the expertise of a Michelin-starred chef.
After ten days of eating in Jerez, and savouring an especially tasty rabo de toro, or oxtail or ‘bull’ stew in Bar Juanito here, I decided that was going to be the quintessential dish of the destination that I was going to learn to make.
Most people will know that a toro is a bull, well, an ox is a bull with its privileges removed, so to speak. Here in Jerez it’s a very common dish and oxtail is readily available in every butcher shop, as are many other cheap cuts of meat. My oxtail, a generous portion for two, cost €10 for a whole tail cut into portions.
After researching recipes and talking to locals, I came to the conclusion that it closely resembles bœuf bourguignon, only it’s tastier because the marrow from the ox tail adds depth to the gravy or sauce. (The bone and the marrow aren’t used in bœuf bourguignon.)
Both dishes require the meat to be browned, a mirepoix (a mix of diced onions, celery and carrots) to be sautéed, the two to be combined. then wine and tomato paste to be added. Other ingredients are optional. Interestingly, bœuf bourguignon generally has a mirepoix au gras – mirepoix with ham or bacon, as well as leeks, parsnips, garlic, or shallots. To me these are also fine additions to rabo de toro. In many recipes I found Spanish chorizo (spicy sausage) was added to the rabo de toro, but in my opinion, if you’re doing it right, the dish needs no such unnecessary complications ot flavours.
Rabo de Toro (Oxtail Stew) recipe
Author: Terence Carter
Recipe type: Main
Traditionally, rabo de toro has two stages of cooking, and I’ve found that these are worthwhile stages to follow. A local cook wouldn’t dream of serving rabo de toro on the same night that the first stage is completed. Sure everyone will be salivating from the amazing aromas, but don’t bow to pressure.
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 kilo of oxtail – it usually comes sliced through the bone in 5cm/2in pieces
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 onion, sliced
• 1 celery stick, diced
• 1 carrot, diced
• 1 leek, sliced (optional but yummy)
• A dash of sherry, or two – one for the pot and one for the chef!
• A few black peppercorns
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed – but not with one of those stupid garlic crushers
• 1 bottle Rioja – preferably a bold one
• Bunch of parsley – stems chopped into small pieces up to the leaves
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 carrot, finely chopped
• 1 tsp sweet paprika
• ½ tsp hot paprika or dried red chilli flakes
• 1 tbsp tomato
Stage one/day one
1. Remember: you’re not eating this tonight. OK? Promise?
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over med-high heat. When hot add the oxtail and brown the pieces all over. Add some salt and pepper while it’s cooking, not before.
3. Remove the oxtail and add the onion, celery, and carrots – and leeks, if you’ve taken my advice.
4. Add a dash of sherry and scrape the browned bits of meat off the bottom of the pan as the sherry evaporates. If you don’t have browned bits, you’ve not cooked the oxtail at a high enough heat.
5. After the mix starts to colour, add the garlic, parsley stems, and the peppercorns, and then, after a couple of minutes, the oxtail.
6. Add the Rioja. Yes, that means the whole bottle. Drink the sherry if you want a tipple.
7. At this stage you’ll probably need to add water to cover all of the oxtail – this is important so that the oxtail cooks properly.
8. Bring to a decent simmer and reduce the heat to low.
9. You now need to leave the oxtail for at least a couple of hours, but check every now and then that the water is still covering the meat.
10. At two hours the meat should be cooked to the stage where it falls off the bone when provoked. If not, leave it on low heat until it does.
11. When it’s ready, remove the oxtail pieces from the sauce and place them in a well-sealed container ready for the fridge. Strain the sauce through a sieve (it doesn’t have to be too fine) and pour it over the meat. When it’s cooled, refrigerate overnight.
Stage two/day two
12. On day two, heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan and add the onion and carrot, cooking until they have colour.
13. Add the oxtail and some of the sauce. Cook until the meat is warmed through and then add the tomato paste and some more of the sauce.
14. Check the sauce for seasoning; you may need to add some salt at this stage.
15. Cook this for 15 minutes or so, adding some more of the sauce as you go. If you don’t have enough sauce for a nice pool around the oxtail when you serve, you may regret it – it should be delicious!
16. Check the seasoning again before serving with the fried potatoes.
If you liked this, see my other posts in this series in which I search for and learn to make quintessential regional dishes, including a chocolate snack with a Michelin-starred chef in Barcelona, Lamb Tajine in Morocco, and Cassoulet in Ceret.