Grandma’s Oxtails

published Sep 22, 2021
Grandma’s Oxtails Recipe

One head of garlic makes this steamy oxtail dish irresistible.


Prep30 minutes

Cook3 hours 30 minutes

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Overhead shot of stewed oxtails with peppers and onions and herbs in orange bowl. Bowl is sitting on a wood platter with a small bowl of rice next to it. There is a gold and white grid-pattern tablecloth underneath. In the upper right corner is a light aqua bowl of tostones, and in the upper left there is a glass of red wine
Credit: Photo: Amber Gress; Food Styling: Krystal Rack; Prop Styling: Vanessa Vazquez

Oxtails hold a very special place in my heart, although I can say that about each and every dish that my grandmother taught me how to cook! They’re messy, rich, and time-consuming, but I will jump through hoops and abandon any diet to eat the delicious meat drenched in rich brown sauce that perfectly coats the white rice. There’s an unspoken rule when eating oxtails: There will be no meat left behind. You must suck the goodness off the bones! 

Like all stews, oxtails take forever to cook if you make them the old-school way, which I still do. Perhaps it’s habit or even stubbornness, but I prefer to stew the oxtails for hours so the aromas of fresh garlic and Dominican orégano fill the house. It’s the perfect dinner: tender stewed meat, fresh white rice, perfectly crispy tostones to soak up the extra sauce and, of course, refreshing Florida/Dominican/Haitian avocados to round it all out.  

While making oxtails in the pressure cooker would save me a ton of time, I would miss out on the kitchen ritual that connects me to my roots. When I season the oxtails using many of the same ingredients as my grandmother, I channel her energy. When I caramelize the sugar before browning the oxtails, I call forth my Black ancestors who used this same exact cooking method. Oxtails hold a special place in many Black Caribbean households, each with their own spice and unique flavor. However, one thing is always true: Oxtails are a representation of the African diaspora rich with history and flavor. Perfectly stewed oxtails reflect the people making them — tough, resilient, flavorful — and, most importantly, they ignite joy! 

I miss my grandmother. As a first-generation American, I worry that I’ll lose my connection to my heritage. To keep her memory alive, I make her famous dishes in the ways that she did because there’s a cultural ritual in doing things like mashing your garlic with a pilon (mortar and pestle) that you just don’t see in modern-day cooking. I never want to erase her memory or those of my ancestors, so I grab my apron and get to cooking, even if it means waiting hours for perfectly stewed oxtails. Good things come to those who wait!

Grandma’s Oxtails Recipe

One head of garlic makes this steamy oxtail dish irresistible.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 3 hours 30 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


  • 1 head

    garlic, or 8 to 10 garlic cloves

  • 2 tablespoons

    regular or dark soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    freshly squeezed lime juice

  • 1 tablespoon

    sazón con achiote seasoning, such as Badia or Accent

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt, plus more for the garlic

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    dried oregano, preferably Dominican or Mexican

  • 1 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 to 4 pounds

    oxtails, preferably 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons

    canola oil

  • 1

    medium red or white onion

  • 1/2

    medium green bell pepper

  • 1/2

    medium red bell pepper

  • 1 teaspoon

    red wine or distilled white vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1 handful

    fresh cilantro sprigs

  • 1 tablespoon

    tomato paste

  • 1

    habanero, Jamaican, or jalapeño pepper

  • Serving options: Rice and plantains


  1. Peel 1 head garlic cloves (8 to 10 cloves). Place the cloves in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of kosher salt and mash until a paste forms. Transfer to a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon sazón con achiote, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Stir to combine. (Alternatively, process the garlic cloves with all the seasonings together in a mini food processor or blender until a paste forms, then transfer to a large bowl.)

  2. Add 3 to 4 pounds oxtails and toss until well-coated. Let marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate overnight.

  3. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil in a stainless steel Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot (not enamel-coated) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar and cook until the sugar is dark brown, about 2 minutes.

  4. Working in 2 batches so as to not crowd the pot, add the oxtails with tongs (reserve the marinade left in the bowl), shaking off as much garlic as possible back into the bowl. Cook until browned on all sides, 8 to 9 minutes. Transfer to a plate. When all the oxtails are browned, return them to the pot.

  5. Add the reserved marinade and enough water so the oxtails are fully submerged. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and partially cover with a lid. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the oxtails are tender, about 2 hours. If the liquid reduces to about 1/3 and the oxtails are still tough, add 1 cup water.

  6. Meanwhile, prepare the following, adding each to a medium bowl as you complete it: Cut 1 medium white or red onion, 1/2 medium green bell pepper, and 1/2 medium red bell pepper into 1/4-inch-thick slices; add 1 teaspoon red white or distilled white vinegar; and toss to combine. Let sit until the oxtails are ready.

  7. When the oxtails are tender, uncover and cook until the liquid is reduced to about 1/3 of the original amount, slightly thickened, and darkened in color, about 30 minutes, skimming off fat from the surface if desired. Meanwhile, finely chop until you have 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems.

  8. Add the cilantro and 1 tablespoon tomato paste to the pot and stir until the tomato paste is completely dissolved. Stir in 1 whole hot pepper; leaving it whole will result in a mildly spicy oxtail stew, or you can dice it first for a spicier stew. Simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes more.

  9. Add the onions and bell peppers, and stir to combine. Remove the pot from the heat and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with rice and plantains if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.