The beauty of tacos is you can make them with any ingredient including oxtails.
Though I’m a native Texan I call Chicago my other home after raising my kids there for 13 years. Recently, I felt a little homesick for Chitown after coming across some old photos. One in particular showed me cooking beef heart. As odd as it sounds this was not that unusual. Now, I didn’t cook or eat beef heart regularly, but I did have common access to uncommon ingredients.
The story behind the beef hearts is that my good friend Sam Brown had asked for my help in preparing different cuts of beef and pork he had on hand. Sam is a Chicago based lawyer professionally but in his heart a farmer from Tennessee and a baker. A few times a year he makes a trip to down state Illinios to purchase a cow and hog from a local farmer there. This particular day I went to his house accompanied by my then 8 year old daughter. With her trailing behind I entered Sam’s kitchen not expecting to see an fully intact black hairy hog’s head with tongue sitting on the countertop.When you grow up down South, odds are you’ve seen a few hogs in your life. Even still I wasn’t not expecting to be greeted by a swine head. Somehow I kept my cool and instinctively turned to my daughter and guided her to the living room to avoid the trauma of having that “Lord of the Flies”moment.
As a thank you for helping with the beef heart, Sam gifted me the oxtails. Full disclosure, when you buy a cow do not expect the tail to be skinned! If this is a deal breaker for you, then either find a good butcher or buy oxtails at your local grocery store. Otherwise just make sure you have a very sharp knife on hand.
I remember braising the oxtails slowly in a rehydrated smoked chiles based sauce and adding to some collard greens. I’ll share that recipe for a later date but they were delicious. The oxtails were rich, tender and meaty, but also very fiery. The heat stems from the fact that I chose not to de-seed the chiles. If you can’t stand the heat then I recommend de-seeding and de-veining. When slow cooking beef in a chile sauce, you create this aroma that permeates the entire house. All the Browns young and old followed the savory beef scent into the kitchen, and as is customory snuck a finger into the pot to taste the meaty goodness and met the same fiery fate which left them looking for relief in the form of almond milk to cool their tongues. Again, I highly emphasize you remove the seeds if heat ain’t your thing.
The key to cooking oxtails is to cook them low and slow in a flavorful braising liquid. I chose the sous vide method which is perfect for oxtails, but traditional braising in a stock pot works great as well. The recipe below accounts for both options. You will not be disappointed with either version.
“Can’t Stand It” Sous Vide Oxtails Tacos
- 3 whole chile ancho seeds and stem removed see notes above
- 2 whole chile guajillo seeds and stem removed (see notes above)
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 pound oxtails
- 1 medium onion finely sliced
- 4 medium cloves garlic smashed
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 4 chipotle chilis packed in adobo roughly chopped, with 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1 pint chicken broth
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 whole bay leaves
- Kosher salt
- Corn tortillas
Add dried chilies to large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stock pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until slightly darkened with intense, roasted aroma, 2 to 5 minutes. Do not allow to smoke. Remove chilies to small bowl and set aside. Cover the chiles with water and then top with small saucer to keep chiles submerged
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Cook oxtails until well-browned on all sides. Remove oxtails and set aside. Reduce heat to medium.
Add remaining two tablespoons oil and heat along with onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until deep brown and just starting to burn, about 10 minutes. Add spices, cloves, and oregano and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chipotle chilies, vinegar, and chicken broth. Scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan, simmer until reduced by about half, then transfer entire contents to the jar of a blender.
Add soaked chilies and their liquid to the blender along with sauce. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside.
Place oxtails, bay leaves, and sauce in ziplock bag for sous vide cooking. Fill and preheat the SousVide machine to 180F. Put the oxtail pieces in two ziplock bags. Add the sauce fully covering all oxtails, seal the bags as you submerge in the water oven to cook for 20 hours. After 20 hours, remove the oxtail from the bags. Place liquid contents in a sauce pan and reduce sauce by half.
Alternatively if cooking via traditional braising method, add oxtails, bay leaves, and sauce to a large dutch oven. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place lid on pot slightly cracked, then transfer to oven. Cook, turning oxtails occasionally, until completely tender 3-4 hours. Discard bay leaves and transfer oxtails to a large plate. Return Dutch oven to stovetop and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until liquid is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups.
When ready to serve pull the meat from the oxtails (removing any big pieces of fat) then shred with two forks. Serve immediately on warm corn tortillas and serve with sauce and condiments of choice.