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Tender bites of oxtail and a thick, rich, warmly spiced sauce.
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Why It Works
Slow-cooking oxtail in a low oven breaks down the otherwise tough cut and transforms it into tender bites of meat where the fat melts.
Tomato paste and wine add acidity to balance the oxtail’s richness.
Rabo encendido is a Cuban dish of oxtails cooked gently in a mixture of wine, tomato paste, and vegetables until the tough meat becomes fork tender and all the connective tissue and fat has melted, creating a rich sauce. It’s usually served with a steaming mound of long-grain white rice and tender
; the rice is handy for mopping up the delicious sauce, and the fried sweet plantains complement the savory bites of meat. The name translates from Spanish to “tail on fire,” which refers to the cut of meat, the warm spice profile, and the chile heat provided by cayenne.
There are two components that separate a good rabo encendido from a great one: the tenderness of the oxtail and the velvety texture of the sauce. The just-okay versions out there may have one of these qualities, but not the other. This recipe, adapted from my aunt Pilar Hernandez’s recipe, has it all.
Serious Eats / Mariel De La Cruz
Pilar is one of the best cooks in my family, and this is what she makes when she wants to wow her guests. Over the years, I’ve brought many friends over to her house just so they could taste her magical oxtail firsthand, in part to introduce them to the best version of the dish I know, but also because I’ll take—and make—any excuse to eat more of it.
Of course, every household has their own variations on the dish—some people like to use ground allspice in the sauce, for example—but my aunt swears by whole cloves, which infuse every bite with warm depth. She also relies on sazón, a spice blend that’s used as the foundation for many Latin American dishes, to add a richer color and depth to the sauce (the MSG in store-bought sazón doesn’t hurt either).
While it’s chilly out right now and cold weather is a perfect time to serve braised meats, I think you can eat rabo encendido any time at all. The only catch is you have to plan ahead to carve out the three to four hours it requires from your schedule. But don’t let the long cook time intimidate you; for most of it, the oxtails are gently braising and they don’t need your attention. Pilar likes to cook the braise from start to finish on the stovetop, but for this version I’ve moved it to a low oven, for several reasons. Using an oven standardizes the cooking temperature, which means the recipes will be more reliable, so long as your oven is true to temp; a low oven braise reduces the need to stir, since scorching isn’t as much of an issue; and using the oven helps develop a deeper flavor, thanks to the hot air circulating around the oxtails, promoting
on their exposed surfaces. Even if it wasn’t this easy, though, I’d say making, and eating, rabo encendido is worth clearing your schedule for.
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