RECIPE | The key to good, hearty oxtail stew — and eight ways to mix it up

Hale and hearty, succulent oxtail slow cooked in a rich gravy is the best antidote to chilly weather. Hilary Biller shares her favourite recipe with variations

17 April 2022 - 00:00
By Hilary Biller
Braised oxtail.
Image: Bauer Syndication Braised oxtail.

Meat-eating South Africans love an oxtail stew, finger-licking, the sensory pleasure is eating the meat off the bones then sucking the succulent cartilage about the joints.

Oxtail always tastes better the next day, if you can wait that long.

It can also be prepared in the slow cooker overnight. Reduce the stock in the recipe from 1 litre to 750ml (3 cups).

If time isn’t on your side, place it in the pressure cooker. Depending on the size of the pressure cooker, it may be better to halve the recipe for even cooking.


Serves: 6-8


2kg oxtail

30ml (2 tbsp) flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

60ml (4 tbsp) vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

2 large or 6 baby leeks, sliced

3 stalks celery, sliced

3 large carrots, peeled, sliced in half lengthways and chopped

2 cloves

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes

1 litre beef stock

500ml (2 cups) red wine

2 bay leaves

A handful of fresh thyme, picked from the stalk

2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked from the stalk

30ml (2 tbsp) Worcestershire, soy or fish sauce


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C with a large roasting pan in the oven to brown the meat. Remove all the excess fat from the oxtail. Coat each joint in seasoned flour.
  2. Add 30ml (2 tbsp) oil to the pan and when hot toss the oxtail in the pan and let it cook for 20 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove and set aside.
  3. In a large ovenproof pan with a lid, preheat the remaining 30ml (2 tbsp) oil and braise the onion, leeks, celery and carrots. Add the cloves, lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes before returning the oxtail to the pan with any pan juices and scrapings and stir through.
  4. Add the tomatoes, ¾ of the beef stock, red wine, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. Close the lid and either cook on the stove top, starting off high to bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium/low and cook for 3-4 hours adding more stock as needed, until meat is tender and falling from the bone. Or place the sealed pan in a preheated oven of 160ºC and cook for 3-4 hours, add more beef stock as needed until the meat is tender and falling from the bone.
  5. Add the Worcestershire sauce or sauce of choice and then taste for seasoning. Serve with rice, mash or idombolo/steamed dumpling and seasonal vegetables.

Tip: For the easiest and most delicious mash I’ve discovered Woolworths frozen mashed potatoes. It comes in small batons and all you do is put them in a pot, add water or milk and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring before serving. Very yummy.


1. Add 125g chopped streaky bacon or 100g chorizo sausage, chopped, to the onion and leek when braising.

2. Spice it up with 1-2 red chillies, seeded and chopped and add to the onion and leek when braising.

3. For a smoky flavour add 5ml (1 tsp) smoked paprika to the seasoned flour before coating the oxtail pieces.

4. Add 1 x 400g can butterbeans or chickpeas, well drained and rinsed, 30 minutes before the end of cooking.

5. Bulk up the greens by adding a large handful of washed spinach leaves with stalks removed 15 minutes before the end of cooking.

6. Make a heartwarming oxtail soup. Cook as above omitting the wine, adding a litre of water. Cook till tender and meat falling off the bone. Cool the oxtail and then remove the meat from the bones. Return the meat to the pot with extra stock/ water for a soupy consistency and bring to the boil.

7. Add dumplings to the stew.  Sift 125g (1 cup) cake flour with 5ml (1 tsp) baking powder and a pinch of salt. Using your fingertips rub in 60g beef suet, butter or margarine till you have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add 2½ tbsp cold water to bring the mixture together and shape into even balls. Remove the lid 15 minutes before the end of cooking, ensuring there’s sufficient liquid, and place the dumplings about the top of the stew. Seal the lid again and continue cooking for 15 minutes.

8. Make idombolo by sifting 3 cups (750ml) flour and mix in 1 cup (250ml) maize meal, add 1 sachet yeast, 30ml (2 tbsp) sugar and 5ml (1 tsp) salt. Mix one egg with 250ml (1 cup) each milk and water and add to dry ingredients to mix to a smooth dough, then knead for 10 minutes. Cover and let it rise until doubled in size. Knock down and place in a greased enamel dish, cover and let rise again for 30 minutes. Bring a pot large enough to hold the bowl and ½ fill with water and bring to the boil. Place the dish with the idombolo over the pot, cover tightly with a lid and simmer gently for an hour, topping up the water in the pot if necessary. Cut the dumpling into wedges and serve with the oxtail.