Oxtail Stew with Broad Beans

Here it is: my first recipe published on the blog that features dried beans. Well, technically, I posted a recipe in 2013 for Cow Heel Soup which featured split peas, but I made them optional. If you’re wondering why I incorporated beans into the recipes for my latest book, be sure to check out this post from last week – but long story short, the recipes in The Heritage Cookbook are historically accurate for a reason. The book investigates the link between traditional foods and health, with the underlying idea that we may have specific adaptations to the foods our recent ancestors relied on as staples. So to omit historical ingredients, prepared in traditional ways, undercuts the entire premise of the book. And just maybe, if eaten in a traditional context, some of these foods might not be so bad from time to time.

So yep, beans. We’re going to use fava beans or lima beans, which are nice and meaty. And like with all of the recipes in the book that feature beans, we’re going to soak them overnight, which increases their digestibility and makes them far easier to cook (plus, this is the way they have been traditionally prepared for thousands of years). One interesting note: while they have a similar appearance and taste, they are from two different corners of the world. Fava beans are part of the pea family, from the eastern Mediterranean, and have been cultivated for 8,000 years; lima beans, on the other hand, are a New World bean, discovered in Peru about 4,000 years ago. There’s an easy way to remember the origins of beans: peas, chickpeas, and fava beans are Old World, and everything else is from the Americas. Pretty cool, huh?

Oxtail stews are found all over the world, and were recorded as far back as the Roman times (but definitely eaten before then – it’s just that nobody was writing about them). This dish in particular is modeled after the Caribbean (specifically, Jamaican) version of this dish, developed at a time when slaves had to make do with lesser cuts of meat, like oxtails. This oxtail stew uses a healthy dose of allspice (native to the Americas) for its base flavor, and the meat is coated in a bit of sugar before being browned. This technique caramelizes the stew nicely, and is likely a remnant of sugarcane plantation cookery.

Oxtail Stew with Broad Beans (Gluten-free)

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Moderate

1 cup dried broad (fava) beans or white butter (lima) beans, soaked overnight
4 lbs beef oxtails
8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp salt, more to taste
1 tsp black pepper, more to taste
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp raw sugar, organic cane sugar, or coconut palm sugar
2 tbsp coconut oil, olive oil, lard, or bacon grease
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
4 green onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp Caribbean hot pepper sauce, more to taste
2 to 3 cups beef stock
2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
chopped cilantro to garnish
white rice to serve
fried plantains to serve

1. Place the beans in a large bowl and fill with enough cold water to cover the beans by 3”; soak overnight.  Combine the oxtails, thyme, paprika, salt, pepper, allspice, and sugar; marinate for at least 1 hour, but up to overnight.

2. Warm the oil in a dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat.  Brown the oxtails on each side until dark and crusty, in batches if needed, about 8 minutes, turning the oxtails every couple minutes.  Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the oxtails and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, green onions, garlic, tomato paste, and hot pepper sauce; simmer until the onions and peppers are very tender and the tomatoes have lost their shape, about 15 minutes, stirring often.

3. Return the oxtails to the dutch oven and add enough beef stock to nearly cover everything.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the oxtails are tender, about 3 hours. Add the carrots about 20 minutes before the oxtails are tender.

4. While the oxtails cook, prepare the beans: drain them and transfer to a saucepan, then fill with enough water to cover the beans by 1”.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the beans are just tender, about 55 minutes, then set aside.

5. Once the oxtails are tender, fish them out using a slotted spoon or tongs and set aside.  Increase the stovetop temperature to medium-high and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half and the sauce takes on a coffee color, about 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and return the oxtails to the pot. Transfer the beans to the pot along with about 2 tbsp of the liquid you simmered them in. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to marry.

6. Season with salt and pepper to taste then garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

6 thoughts on “Oxtail Stew with Broad Beans

  1. I made this last night. It is well worth the time. I salted as I went instead of at the end. My husband said it’s the best oxtail recipe I’ve made.

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  2. Cooking meat with sugar, known as browning in the Caribbean, is an African cooking technique brought by enslaved Africans to the Americas. Black-eyed peas were also brought from Africa by them.

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    1. Hi Alison, thanks for the comment! Your note led me to re-read my historical notes from developing The Heritage Cookbook, which was actually pretty fun to crack open after about a year of not looking at them. You are spot on that black eyed peas were brought over from Africa, as well as okra, watermelon, palm oil, and collard greens. I didn’t really get into details about cooking with sugar in this post because first and foremost I wanted to focus on the introduction of beans to this site, a concept that was new to the site when I posted this recipe last year. Although I recall from my research I found no evidence that cooking with sugar was brought over from pre-slavery African cuisine, but rather that it developed indigenously among African slaves in the Caribbean who were forced to work in sugar plantations starting in the 16th century. Crystalized sugar was initially developed in South Asia, and commercialized in the Middle East in the early 1400s, but didn’t spread to African cuisine until well after the Atlantic Slave Trade had devastated West and Central Africa by the 1700s.

      In the late 15th century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers had started experimenting with growing sugarcane at the sites they colonized; Columbus himself brought sugarcane to Hispaniola on his second voyage across the Atlantic in 1493. There were some early sugarcane plantations developed in the outlying islands surrounding Africa in the late 1400s, but it does not appear that cooking with sugar grew from that stage. One interesting point is that browning meat with sugar is not prominent in African cuisine today: most dishes in West and Central Africa, where the vast majority of slaves were taken, are spiced with ground shrimp/crawfish or groundnuts before being browned in palm oil.

      So based on the timeline of both sugar and the Atlantic Slave Trade, and researching historical cuisines of both African and the Caribbean, it is my assessment that browning in sugar is not a historical African cooking technique. Rather, Africans forcibly brought to the Caribbean through the Atlantic Slave Trade in the 1500s and 1600s had developed their own cuisine based on available ingredients (hence my note about “sugarcane plantation cookery” in the recipe post), which includes browning meat with sugar.

      Thanks for the opportunity to look through my notes again, hope this was helpful! I do spend some time going into detail on these topics in The Heritage Cookbook, but not as razor-sharp focused on every single ingredient as I would have liked; even at 760 pages, there was a lot of research I had to cut out of the final manuscript to make it printable. If you’re interested in reading more about historical Caribbean cuisine, one book I found particularly enlightening is Candice Goucher’s “Congotay! Congotay! A Global History of Caribbean Food”.

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