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Photo of Aayisha Ruby Gold making schug

Jamaican Kosher Oxtail Stew with a Yemeni Twist

You may have heard of oxtail, or perhaps tried a bowl of oxtail stew at a local restaurant. Oxtail is the name for the tender tail meat of a steer, a gelatinous bone-in chunky cut of beef, full of joint tissue and tender meat that melts off the bone when braised. Oxtail stew is a traditional dish in several regions, such as Korea, West Africa, China, Spain, and Indonesia.

Maybe you’re wondering: “are oxtails even kosher?” According to Jewish laws of kashrut, the sciatic nerve that runs through the flesh of the oxtail is what actually deems oxtails to be “non-kosher.” So the removal of these parts must be performed by a qualified shochet (ritual slaughterer) for the oxtail to be 100% kosher. For this recipe, I purchased verified Glatt Kosher oxtail meat from a trusted local kosher butcher. 

Image of oxtail stew on a bed of couscous

I remember the first time I tried these deliciously fatty, tender succulent morsels. My mother came home from a local butcher, peeled off the label, unwrapped the brown paper and there were seven beautiful seared oxtails. “I’m making an oxtail stew tonight for dinner,” she said. She prepared the oxtails by cleaning them with water and a small amount of vinegar, adding tomato paste, assorted vegetables, herbs and spices on a bed of white rice. She asked if I would like to assist her in the kitchen, and perhaps learn her way of cooking them and I was delighted. Now, I am proud to be able to recreate her version into my interpretation of this flavorful hearty dish through a Jewish lens. On the other side of the family, my father added other ingredients such as potatoes, creamy butter beans (this is the name of the bean, not a dairy ingredient), garlic, green onions, pimento, and coconut milk. 

I’ve cultivated my cooking expertise from a lifetime of eating and experimenting with various cuisines and techniques I’ve learned from my mother, my father, and my interest in traditional Jewish and Jamaican dishes. My cooking is an expression of my family’s love for food as a Jew of color.

I recently wondered if I could recreate the stew using kosher oxtails, fresh Jamaican thyme, Yemen spices, butter beans, sweet carrots, on a bed of gluten-free Israeli couscous to round out the dish. There are a few grocery stores I enjoy visiting for specific ingredients. One of my family’s favorite places to shop for all things kosher is Sarah’s Tent in Skokie, Illinois, formerly known as the “Hungarian Grocery Store.” You may have your own local kosher market, if not, you can also order kosher oxtails online.

Finally, a note on the meat: even though oxtails are preferred meat to use, chicken is just as good— actually in Yemen, the less wealthy Jewish families would use chicken most of the time because it was cheaper. Also, if you desire, feel free to substitute chicken breasts and/or thighs for oxtails. And as for the spice lovers, adding a little yemenite schug to your stew will certainly give that kick it needs. Schug, sometimes spelled zhug or zhough, is a middle eastern spice, which originated in Yemen. Another name is daqqus. Schug is the Hebrew word for hot or spicy and is made up of fresh green or red hot chili pepper, coriander, cumin, chili peppers, fresh herbs such as parsley and cilantro, and olive oil. With all the ingredients provided, if you’re up for the challenge, schug can be made either in a mortar and pestle grinding bowl or with a variable-speed hand blender. 

I must admit, during my first time learning how to create this dish I added a little too much schug and the stew became excessively spicy. Ever seen Shaggy Rogers’ hot red pepper scene in Scooby-doo? Not only did a blast of flames (metaphorically speaking) pour from my mouth, but my ears also felt like an angry blazing inferno. So, a mere 1½ teaspoon of schug’s delicious green hotness will certainly compliment your oxtail stew perfectly. 

Regular couscous is slightly tan or light brown and is made from finely ground durum and wheat flour. In this dish I’m using gluten-free couscous, which is yellowish in color and made from 100% maize (cornmeal). I compare it to short grain brown rice, or to tiny spheres of pasta. The flavour is mild, the text is soft and it can be cooked just like regular couscous. It pairs so well with oxtail stew! 

This Jamaican kosher oxtail with a Yemeni twist is great to serve for Shabbat dinner or any night during or after Passover. Enjoy!

Jamaican Kosher Oxtail Stew with a Yemeni Twist 

Prep: 15 mins Cook: 3hrs 15mins Total: 3hrs 30mins Serves: 6

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3-4 lbs oxtails
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tbsp kosher salt 
  • ½ tbsp black pepper 
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce low sodium 
  • 4-6 cups beef broth 
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme 
  • 2 bay leaves chopped
  • 1 16 oz can butter beans drained
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch or all-purpose flour
  • 3 green onions chopped (plus garnish) 
  • 1 ½ tsp shrug depending on spice preferred 
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp Herb De Provence or allspice 
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika 
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste 
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 whole carrots chopped
  • 3 whole celery sticks chopped

METHOD:

  1. Place your oxtails in a small bowl of cool water and vinegar. Rinse them, pour the water out and dry oxtails with a clean cloth. Cleaning the meat is something my mother has always done.
  2. Add 3 cups of water to a medium pot and bring to a boil. Sprinkle kosher salt onto the meat and place it into the pot; boil your oxtails until you see a foam. The foam is a denatured protein, harmless and flavorless. Don’t fret. Pour the water out and dry once again with a clean cloth. 
  3. In a big bowl, coat oxtails with olive oil and then seasonings: kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and Herb De Provence or allspice. Mix seasoning with your hands until meat is covered completely. If preferred, let marinate overnight. Add a little olive oil to a large deep pot or skillet and place over medium heat. Sear the larger pieces of the oxtails on all sides until golden brown for about a minute. Remove oxtails and set them aside in a large bowl. 
  4. Using the same pot, chop and combine half a yellow onion, green onion, garlic cloves, tomato paste, schug red spice, and 6 cups of beef broth. Frequently stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are completely mixed and brown for 5 minutes. Then add dried thyme, bay leaves, cloves of garlic (minced), a pinch of brown sugar, and return oxtails to the skillet on low heat to simmer for  2 hours and 45 minutes. Keep the lid slightly opened and occasionally check. Add more beef broth or water if needed. 
  5. During the last 45 minutes, add chopped celery, carrots, butter beans (lima beans), cornstarch and the other half of yellow and green onion (optional). Take out thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Stir stew and leave uncovered until it thickens. Then serve garnished with freshly chopped green onion. 

ISRAELI COUSCOUS

  1. Pour 1.5 cups of water into a small pot; bring to a boil over high heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 scant teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 cup of Israeli Couscous. Cook for 2 minutes and stir occasionally .
  2. Reduce to low heat, cover pot and cook for 10-15 minutes until couscous feels dry to the touch. Then allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Aayisha Ruby Gold is a passionate stage and screen actor, theater director, and published author. She received her Bachelor of Arts at Columbia College Chicago in 2013. She spends most of her time as a superhuman mother and wife to her adorable 2-year-old son and husband.