Well, I seriously doubt that what is sold as ‘oxtail’ in the markets really comes from an ox. I’m sure it comes from the same steers as the rest of the meat, but it sounds strange to say “oxtail” or even “cowtail.” Obviously, it’s one of those (sorry for the expression) ‘odds and ends’ items and as such one might think it’s pretty inexpensive. However, this is not the case, as it is sold at a premium price that competes with other choice cuts. Clearly, there is a good demand for oxtail.
For beef, oxtail is clearly the best by far. When I cook in large batches, I will use bones and tendons, but for smaller pots, oxtail is the meat of choice. It takes a full three hours to soften, with conventional pot additions. Onion with cloves is required. The best thing about a bulltail population is that it requires no further manipulation; It is ready to serve in bowls without any effort or modification.
I treat the oxtail as a luxury meat. I know about oxtail stew and other similar dishes, but would never alter their liquor unless I had a lot of pounds on hand. I also never use it in highly flavored soups. I’ve had the best luck with oxtail soup that uses carrots, celery, parsley, and maybe a little barley as it’s hearty, pleasantly chewy, and neutral in flavor. Crispy baguettes go well with oxtail soup and can be served with cheese for contrast. Plus, exotic salad greens and herbs dressed in a simple vinaigrette go great with soup.
Heading east to Vietnam, oxtail is a premium broth for delicious pho. I find the basil and bean sprouts not the least bit compromising, and the rice noodles work perfectly if you make sure you have a strong starting broth. Use chili sauce with beef strips on the side to avoid spoiling the broth.