Fifth Quarter: Roman Holiday Oxtail Stew

The fifth quarter, or butcher’s cut, is offal traditionally kept by the butcher for home cooking. Often inexpensive and always tasty, RVANews’s monthly column, Fifth Quarter, offers less-traveled recipes that are both good and offal.

The fifth quarter, or butcher’s cut, is offal traditionally kept by the butcher for home cooking. Often inexpensive and always tasty, RVANews’s monthly column, Fifth Quarter, offers less-traveled recipes that are both good and offal.

Why do we call comestible cow tails “oxtails”? Oxen have disappeared from the landscape; they no longer pull ploughs and carry cargo across the plains. And it is only in the last two hundred years that cows have been raised specifically for beef and not for farming or transportation in the rest of the world.

tasting 006One answer to this culinary mystery can be found in the maxim “all roads lead to Rome,” specifically Testaccio, a slaughterhouse district in southern Rome that is known for their slow-cooked comfort food. Historically, slaughterhouse workers in Testaccio were paid in ox skins and tails. Traditional Testaccio cuisine centers on this toothsome fifth quarter cut.

Oxtail, just like the rest of the cow, tastes like beef — really concentrated, really rich beef. The key to this meat is long braising on low heat; the longer it cooks, the more tender the cow tail. A staple of Jamaican cuisine, but popular in Spanish, French and South African cuisine too, oxtail takes a Roman holiday in the first installment of Fifth Quarter.

Roman Holiday Oxtail Stew

(Loosely adapted from Cooking the Roman Way: Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome by David Downie)


  • 2 1/2 lb. oxtail, trimmed of fat and cut into pieces
  • 12 celery stalks
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 large white onion
  • 4 ounces fat back
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2-plus tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 5 cloves
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Whole nutmeg for grating*


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the oxtail under cool running water and trim away excess fat. Pat dry with paper towels, salt and pepper both sides, place on a large baking pan and allow meat to come to room temperature while you chop the onion, garlic, carrot and celery.

Small dice 1 celery stalk (remove stringy bits first) and reserve the rest of the celery. Small dice the fat back. Small dice the garlic, carrot and onion. Combine the diced vegetables with heaping tablespoon of parsley.

Over medium-high heat, sauté the fat back in a dutch oven or large casserole dish, which you’ll also use to braise the oxtail. Add the minced vegetables and garlic and stir with a wooden spoon until the onion sweats and turns translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add a little olive oil if needed.

Rub a little olive oil on the oxtails. Put the oxtails in the preheated oven to render some of their fat, about 20 minutes.

Pour the wine in the casserole with the diced veggies and fat back and bring to a low boil. Crush the tomatoes by hand by squeezing them over the casserole mixture and add the can juices.

Remove the oxtails from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 300. Deglaze the baking sheet with the boiling water. Pour the liquid into the casserole and add a little more boiling water (or wine) if the oxtail bones are not completely covered with liquid. Add the cloves, bay leaves, pine nuts, red pepper and raisins. Lid the casserole or cover with aluminum foil

Cook for three hours in the oven or 6 hours in a crockpot on low. The oxtails will be nearly done. If fork tender, large dice the remaining celery stalks and add to the dish with the rest of the parsley. Continue to cook for another 45minutes to an hour, until the celery gets soft.

Pick out the cloves and bay leaves and top with the rest of the minced parsley. Grate a little fresh nutmeg into the dish. Serve in soup bowls and round out the meal with salad and bread.

Serves five to six guests.

If you have squeamish eaters, cool the oxtail stew, skim the fat from the sauce and remove the meat from the bones. Use the meat and the sauce to dress or stuff pasta. This dish, like lasagna, is better on the second day.

*Some recipes for oxtails Roman style call for a bit of dark bitter chocolate or a pinch of cinnamon instead of nutmeg to finish the stew and to add an extra layer of sweet, spicy and savory.

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Genevelyn Steele

Genevelyn Steele mixed her first drink, a “Pink Squirrel”, at age six. Dubbed a natural, she was quickly enlisted to bartend at her parents’ soirees.

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