“Nose to tail” eating has carried a stigma throughout the ages and around the globe. During the Antebellum period of the United States, leftover animal parts were used to feed slaves on plantations. As a result, dishes comprised of offal (organ meat) and cheap cuts of meat became associated with African-American culture and Southern fare.
During the Victorian era, the stigma of “nose to tail” eating persisted in Europe. French chef Alexis Soyer despaired that so much good food was going to waste. He could not understand why the British turned their noses up at it while countries like France ate the whole animal without worrying about such things. Oxtail soup, which is similar to oxtail stew, had its origin during the Reign of Terror in Paris in 1793, when many of the nobility were reduced to starvation and begging. Fresh hides were sent to the tanners without removing the tails, and in cleaning them the tails were thrown away. One day one of the noble beggars, while happening to pass a tannery, noticed a pile of discarded tails, and asking for one it was willingly given to him. He took it to his lodging and made what is now famous – the first dish of oxtail soup. He immediately told his friends of the good luck he had, with the natural result that the tanners were soon annoyed to such an extent by the demand for oxtails that a price was put on them.
For anyone that has not tasted oxtail soup or stew, it is best compared to braised short ribs, but with much more flavor. Today, the limited availability of oxtail as a grocery item, has made it a very expensive one. It is no longer a cheap cut of meat. Oxtail stew is savory and easy to prepare.
Although oxtail soup has European origins, oxtail stew would still be a fitting meal for an American lumberjack. Anyone familiar with North American folklore has heard of Paul Bunyan. His name evokes images of massive strength and unusual feats. Paul Bunyan is described as a giant lumberjack, and is often accompanied in stories by his animal companion, Babe the Blue Ox. Legend has it that Babe was given to him by pioneers, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. I’m sure frontiersmen had huge appetites, and would appreciate a hearty warm meal – like oxtail stew. Sorry, Babe.
- 1 cup onion (chopped)
- 1 cup celery (chopped)
- 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 lbs oxtails
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway
- 1 cup carrots (chopped)
- 1 cup potatoes (peeled and quartered)
- 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
- Add onion, celery, tomatoes, chicken broth, oxtails, salt, pepper, thyme, and caraway to a large crock pot. Let it cook on low for 6 hours.
- Add carrots and potatoes, then cook for another 2 hours.
- Drain liquid and reserve in a separate bowl. Whisk 2 cups of the liquid with cornstarch and pour over oxtails. Stir oxtails, then cover and cook for 45 minutes.