Oxtail stew (or ‘stew oxtail’ as it is more commonly called in local parlance) is a sentimental favourite of many Trinbagonians. While writing this post I even had a Twitter follower tell me that it’s the first thing she insists on having upon returning home! In the US stew oxtail is more closely identified with Jamaican fare, but I do believe that each island is equally proud of its own takes on this classic Caribbean dish.
In the case of Trinidad-style ‘stew oxtail’ I believe what makes ours distinctive is the combination of our green seasoning marination (dominant in culantro flavour) and the subsequent browning of the meat. Browning meat in Trinidad (as I told Sam Sifton of the New York Times for his piece “A Winter’s Tail”) is mandatory to all stewed preparations and always involves caramelizing it with molten sugar for around 5 minutes before anything else is added. This adds a golden tone to the meat and also imparts a sweetness, that combined with the prior marination, creates a very unique flavour.
I prefer to caramelize my sugar as needed rather than buying ready made bottles of ‘browning’. These have a somewhat bitter flavour in my book. Something that is easily avoided by just doing it from scratch and taking a little care.
To prepare the stew three methods dominate 1) pressure cooker (my mother’s preference) 2) starting it off on the stove and then finishing it in the oven 3) slow cooking on the stovetop. My recipe uses the 3rd method which is the slowest but what I prefer . The depth of flavour and colour that it achieves can not be matched and the result is a close cousin to boeuf bourguignon. J even says it’s better than his mother’s, but we won’t tell her right?
Talking about my mother, this whole oxtail exchange has made her determined to share her Jamaican oxtail recipe which uses chive, thyme, lima beans and tomatoes and doesn’t involve browning. It’s a completely different flavour profile and just goes to show how having a dish by one name in one island, doesn’t mean that’s the dish you’ll get if you are served it on another. Only time will tell if she will stand by those words though so, until then, I’ll leave you with my recipe. Enjoy!
Sarina’s Trinidad-Style Stew Oxtail
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tablespoon chopped chive
1 tablespoon chopped culantro (chadon beni)
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped ginger
1 tsp Angostura bitters
1 tbsp ketchup
2 lbs. oxtail pieces (they are easily available pre-cut here)
4 potatoes, peeled and roughly cubed
3 tbsp oil
3 tbsp sugar
2 large onions, sliced
2 small carrots, diced
4 cups water
1 habanero or scotch bonnet pepper
1. Puree marinade ingredients in food processor/blender
2. Combine with oxtail pieces (you can stab them with a small knife to create incisions that will allow the marinade to permeate deeper)
3. Marinate (preferably overnight – a minimum of 2 hours)
4. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat.
5. Add sugar to oil and allow to cook until it turns caramel in colour – don’t allow it to smoke!
6. Immediately add oxtail pieces (along with all of the marinade). – If the sugar seizes up at this point that’s perfectly normal it will dissolve.
7. Stir until the oxtail pieces are well-coated and continue to brown for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
8. Add onion slices and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring regularly.
9. Add the 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.
10. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
11. Add the hot pepper, potatoes and carrots. Cover.
12. Allow to cook until oxtails are tender, stirring occasionally. (This can take anywhere from 2-4 hours. Check at the 2 hour point for fork tenderness and make sure at all times to not burst the pepper)
13. Add more liquid if needed (you want a thick, shiny gravy) and season with salt and black pepper to taste. This is the first time you’re adding additional seasoning so don’t be afraid to be liberal!
14. Simmer, covered, for an additional 30 minutes.
15. Remove pepper (making sure it remains whole)
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ROUND OUT THIS MEAL WITH ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
• Sarina’s Spicy Ochro/Okra Melée (recipe)
• Curried Pumpkin and Rice (recipe)
• Trinidad Rum Punch (recipe)
• Jamaican Sorrel Rum Punch (recipe)
• Caribbean Cooler (recipe)
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