“Oxtail is one of those dishes where there’s really no right or wrong way to season it (although Jamaicans and Southerners might try to convince you otherwise), so the only thing I can tell you is that when someone makes it for you, or when you make it, and when you share it or eat it alone, it should make you feel like someone gathered the strength of their hands to make something for you that says love.”
—Destiny O. Birdsong, from “Build Back a Body”
Destiny O. Birdsong’s essay “Build Back a Body” and Shay Youngblood’s “Feasting on Bread and Dry Bones” both feature oxtail—a staple of Southern U.S. comfort food. One of our favorite threads in Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic is the that way food enriches our lives and evokes memories. Birdsong prepares oxtail while exploring memories and the challenges of managing an autoimmune disease during a pandemic. Similarly, Shay Youngblood relies on cooking as a way to cope, while observing food insecurity in her community. These essays led us to ask: what exactly is oxtail, and how is it served?
Oxtail is the tail of a cow, “a part of the animal that, traditionally, no one wanted,” as Birdsong reminds us in her essay. Once considered the animal’s scraps, oxtail is now a delicacy that sells for more than seven dollars per pound.
Popular in Caribbean communities, particularly Jamaica, oxtail is often braised and served over rice with a rich, juicy sauce, or it may be cooked in a stew with butter beans. To find oxtail, just head to your local international market.
Birdsong hints about seasoning oxtail, writing, “At home, I rub thyme, allspice, and paprika into each disc of meat, still stiff with cold and now gritty with salt.”
In “Feasting on Bread and Dry Bones,” Youngblood suggests creating a stew. “When I craved meat, I made oxtail stew with thyme and a good red wine for gravy that I sopped up with a thick slice of bread.”
“Many of my recipes are a combination of googling three to four recipes, intuition, taste and what I have on hand,” Youngblood responded when asked to share her recipe. “The oxtail recipe I made up as I went along. I remember, and I tell myself a story when I make comfort foods.”
Inspired by Youngblood’s approach, we suggest starting with the recipes below. But there’s really no wrong way to do it! Just tell yourself a story as you go.
From the New York Times
From New Orleans native Kenneth Temple, author of the cookbook Southern Creole
From AJ and Mirlene of Savory Thoughts, which highlights traditional Haitian recipes
For more food memories and tips on cooking oxtail, read Destiny O. Birdsong’s “Build Back a Body” and Shay Youngblood’s “Feasting on Bread and Dry Bones” in Bigger Than Bravery. If you’re not much of a cook, don’t worry; these essays have all the rich details you’ll need to taste oxtail, simply by reading.
Find Destiny O. Birdsong’s and Shay Youngblood’s essays in Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic.
Thanks to Lookout staffers Jenna Johnson and Wyatt Leong for compiling this article.