Literally, tail on fire. A traditional Cuban stew.

Before Bautista and Castro, movements of capital required that most Cubans survive by producing cash crops--usually tobacco and sugar cane. One therefore worked the soil by day and took in rum/cigars/dominoes by night. My Abuela described the taste of earth in sugar cane leaves lowest on the stalks, usually while spooning bleached C&H into a bowl of Cheerios for me.

Saturday mornings we'd hop into her late-model Lumina and she would drive us to the Orange County Civic Center near the defunct courthouse, where she'd pick up government canned goods.

She would get mostly fruit and small things she could use for cooking--baby onions, olives, tomato sauce (always tomato sauce). Sometimes a white can of peanut butter for yours truly. It was usually a long wait. Not as long, I suppose, as if we'd been waiting for rations in Havana, and we probably got more food at the Civic Center anyway, but the irony wasn't lost.

But this is not a writeup about irony or bitterness; it is a writeup about rabo.

Because plantations require draft animals and humans require protein, Cubans, like most in this predicament, got into the habit of eating tails. It happens that cows' tails are goddamn delicious.

Rabo Encendido

3-4 hours prep/cook time
Calories like crazy probably but who cares
Serves 4

Some cookbooks will tell you to remove the bones before cooking. Christ, don't do that.

For a bare serving of this dish you need:

  • Three to five pounds oxtail — the leaner the better
  • Flour
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 4 garlic cloves mashed with salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 2½ cups beef broth
  • Handful of diced potatoes, approximately one cup
  • One 12-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • ½ cup red cooking wine
If you're feeling adventurous, you may wish to add chopped celery, carrots, or green bell pepper. Unsweetened chocolate powder will lend the stew a mole taste. Green Spanish olives added liberally will add some tang. No pimento, please. Cajun seasoning's another option, along with thyme and nutmeg in amounts of ¼ – ½ teaspoon.

Throw in some lime juice if you wish also.

First, roll the tail segments in flour. This is a stew; it is to be thick.

Using a large pan or small oven, sear the meat on all sides in the oil for five minutes or so. Replace the meat with the onions/pepper/whatever. When the onions turn transluscent add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the tomato sauce, the wine, the browned meat, and the spices. Drop in potatoes, celery, and carrots. Let it simmer for two and a half hours, stirring occasionally, adding spices as needed.

When serving, you may include eighty year old men playing dominoes for atmosphere. Pepper conversation liberally with Fuck Castro. For lighting include afternoon sun through half-drawn curtains, adding slowdancing cigar smoke for additional texture.

And yes--you eat the fat.




Recipe from grandmother to mother to fingertips to copper wire to world