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A Typical New Year's Feast: Oxtail in Red Wine & Tomato Sauce (Rabo Encendido)

I can hardly believe it’s 2011. I’m still partially stuck in 2010 which is not a good thing. This year promises a lot of favorable change and major accomplishments for me so allowing a lingering heart and mind in 2010 can only slow down the process!

While I try to embrace the new year and focus on the things I personally need to take on to make those accomplishments a reality, I relish in the few last days of 2010 that made all my plane hopping worth the lines, uncomfortable seats, outrageous carry-on fees (might you guess what jack ass airline does that?) and mediocre coffee.

The holiday season started for me with celebrating my grandfather’s 90th birthday in Miami. You can see some of the fun here. I then flew to DC to enjoy our family’s Christmas on Tuesday night. It was so fabulous arriving at my parent’s house and seeing all of my mother’s decked out décor. She goes all out! Nothing like Danny DeVito in Deck the Halls, but definitely the same high energy and detail in making sure everything is lit. Check out some lovely images from the décor, here.

After our tardy Christmas Day, we only had 3 days to get sorted and ready for New Year’s Eve. Third to Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) and Thanksgiving, NYE is the biggest occasion we celebrate in our crazy Cuban house. Everyone is invited and everyone comes. The door stays open all night and vintage Cuban music blares in the kitchen and family room. It may be cold outside, but the warmth inside is enough to keep my hat off.

This year’s approach to celebrating New Year’s Eve was slightly on the low-key side. I suppose celebrating Christmas 3 days later threw us off and we had to adjust.  The usual suspects showed up and brought their renditions of annual staples. The other party poopers found peace staying in their homes which only meant more food for us! Yes, we were all fine with that.

There’s nothing okay with having food laying around and not eating it, especially when I think of my poor tia in Cuba that’s yet to visit. And surely, those same party poopers are liable to show up announced and 1st thing coming out of their mouth is “Y adonde esta la comida?”

So on NYE, the frenzy started around 1pm and mami transformed into her usual self,  ensuring everyone knew the kitchen was her domain and everyone needed to be out. I had 4 flans for order to make before 7pm and barley squeezed in to do my thing. I guess she observed my stealth movements and I ended up staying around to help complete the intracacies of making dinner.

Rabo ensendido or peppered oxtail was the main attraction of the evening. You may remember from my episode with Emeril on his show “Emeril Green” on Discovery’s Planet Green where I cooked this delicacy for my family during the remote shoot–the segment that started the episode. If you’ve not seen it, you can check it out here (sans commercials).

Oxtail has to be my favorite cut. Mami doesn’t make it as often anymore and I sure don’t make it for myself in Atlanta. Clients are usually unfamiliar with it and friends are always turning their nose. It’s seemingly too fancy for them.

But for us, the pricey piece of red meat is treated with a lot of respect. We appreciate where it comes from, what it takes and how to choose that perfect pack of 6 or 8 bones—how clean, lean, and fresh they should look and smell. You don’t want all fatty ones even though you can extract some serious flavor from those. You also don’t want a pack that has only small bones, though again those tend to be the most robust. You want to go for oxtail that is flawless in color and texture–no off-coloring whatsoever– to the point where you can make a carpacchio with it. There’s an idea. Hmm.

Will play with that concept.

In making rabo, a classic Cuban dish, there’s no question how we season it–lots of homemade mojo criollo, more garlic, lots of red wine, fresh oregano my parents grow at home and other goodness. Or how we cook it–in the pressure cooker. While I’ve spent my entire life making it the way my mom does (except for the amount of black pepper)–in supberb red wine, tomato sauce and all those classic herbs and spices, I’ve outgrown that recipe and want to explore beyond our mother sauce base. That’s the tricky and beautiful thing about being stuck in one way: You develop a passion for creating something new. In this case, I’m thinking of ways I can make the oxtail a bit more French style, but still keep the wonderful flavors and method that make ours so tender and juicy.

The pressure cooker definitely has a lot to do with it. It’s the one technique most of you know I default to. Oxtail is not exempt.

When you have our oxtail, you can’t be demure and coy. It’s understood upon plating it that you’re going to get your pretty fingers all dirty. It’s okay. The more you work around the crevices the more we know you love it. It’s part of the experience and you don’t want to rob yourself of that after dinner chatter.

We finally sat down to break bread and it was nothing less than we expected. One of my and mom’s ultra pet peeve’s is to serve room temperature food, let alone eat it. It has to be hot and right off the stove. Can you imagine what this means in a house full of 20 people trying to sit down in an orderly way?

Yeah, well, it’s mayhem and takes about 10 minutes. Every.single.time. We blessed our food and went to town on the dinner table! Rabo is always paired with arroz congri, another staple in our cuisine and about the best rice you will ever eat, boiled yuca con mojo (featured earlier in my Latina column), sweet or green plantain, toasted pan Cubano, salad, flan or rice pudding, and a bit of rum. And for those not wanting congri, there’s plain white rice with a lovely potaje de frijoles colorados (Kidney beans) and pernil–something Emeril would totally be pleased with.

Green beans aren’t normally seen in our holiday dinners, but I’ve been making a point of serving them more often as we admittedly have a a poor green diet.

The rabo was rich, tender, juicy, well-balanced in flavors and thankfully there was enough to go around. At home, there is no fancy or gourmet approach to eating. We just eat. It’s home-cooking. It’s okay for you to serve yourself  2 or 3 times. It’s food for the soul. The longer we (really I) take in making the plate all pretty and presentable for picture purposes, the longer everyone loses their patience and ends up pushing me around. It’s just the way it is. That being said, the picture of my dinner plate is not intended to wow you by its styling or lack thereof, rather to give you a glimpse of how good we eat when the family gathers; and to entice you to try this fantastic and delicate piece of red meat.

It’ll change your world.

I promise. Even Emeril’s producers thought so. I received an email from one of them after taping thanking me for sending them off with dinner. It was their first time having rabo and they couldn’t wait for seconds. The ultimate compliment.

Happy New Year to you and your family! Wishing you the most fabulous year yet! I’ve got some great things coming up that I can’t wait to share.

What’d you feast on New Year’s?!


Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.

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160 thoughts on “A Typical New Year's Feast: Oxtail in Red Wine & Tomato Sauce (Rabo Encendido)

  1. que rico se ve todo eso…………
    seguimos esperando tu libro de recetas…..gracias por compartir

  2. OMG! This looks soooooooo GOOD! I must have before I do my cleanse…need recipe!The whole meal looks Wonderful!

  3. si definitivamente rabo es uno de mis favoriyos por la ricura de la carne y ese se ve de chuparse los dedos felicidades

  4. One of my most favorite dishes. Love how you show the raw and cooked pictures of the oxtail. My mouth is watering as I type this comment.

  5. Silvia: sabes que’l rabo es uno de mis carnes favoritas. toma tiemp en hacer pero vale la pena!

    Sue Ellis: make some, you know you know it! 🙂

    Canika: It is just as good as it looks if not better! I need to recreate in another style so you can see it’s gourmet possibilities! sooo sooo sooo good. I can’t get enough of it.

    DuoDishes: I know, right! It’s great to see how different people celebrate different occasions. Always something new to learn.

    Rosa: Oh it is entirely too much fun. We act a hot mess but in a fantastic way. Lots and lots of laughter which is important in bringing in the new year.

    Carmen: bueno, fuistes tu que me enseñastas come hacerlo asi que te doy las gracias. que rico es chupar un pedacito de rabo, verdad!?!?! yummy!!!

    Irene: Yup! Sure is! Thanks for visiting.

    Ilona: I’ve made this for you, right? And I think I gave you the recipe, but I can’t remember. Let me know since I’m all too familiar with how much you love it!

  6. OMG….this looks too good. I love oxtails, but have never tried to create the dish myself. Well…..I think I’m off to the Market….OMG….this looks so good. Great pic….I must get that camara of yours. Nice!


  7. Wow, prima its looks amazing , and I’m sure tasted even better!!!!! Wish I was there!! haven’t had Rabo in the longest time…..when u coming to FL again….more specifically my house so you can cook some yummy dishes for me!!! 😀

  8. New Year’s Eve isn’t the food day for us. New Year’s Day, however, must include greens and black-eyed peas. This year we had both NE and SE traditions. Ham (admittedly store bought and re-heated; obtaining uncooked ham is *hard*), homemade sauerkraut, greens in a cream sauce, and a black-eyed pea salad.

    (Still feel bad that we couldn’t get out to pick up peas from Peas for Prosperity. These were pantry stock.)

  9. I loved your narrative. It reminded me of the Christmas celebrations at home in California. The “Rabo Encendido” looks delicious. I’ve been curious about using a pressure cooker, but I will make it a point to give it a try.

    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Joi: Really!? Well if you’re a home cook and love learning new things, this dish is definitely one to try to make. Even if it doesn’t come out the way you’d like it to (or should) the first time, there’s always the 2nd time. It’s well worth the trials!

    Maelys: Hahahaha. You know I’m game for coming down to Florida anytime to cook!

    Dullah: Yes, you should be sorry you missed it 😉

    Jason: I love learning how different people eat. For us NYE and moreso Christmas Eve, is a huuuge eating day—bar none. I know of the black-eyed peas being a tradition in American culture. For us, and I failed to mention it, is that carry lentils around until midnight! I’ve yet to try Peas for Prosperity’s peas…I’m sure they’re good. Have you had Rancho Gordo’s?

    Minerva: Thank you. So kind of you you to take note. If you have any questions about using the pressure cooker, let me know. I’ll email you some links you can use a reference.

    JoanNova: Yes, yes and yes. The messier, the better! You get it! Happy New Year to you, too, Joan. Many hugs and blessings!

  11. Love, love, love your work. So excited about taking the plunge to prepare oxtails for my family on yesterday (Sunday). I have always been afraid to try preparing them on my own. They were great. Yum! Thanks Bren and keep up the great work. You are blessed!

  12. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and leaving that sweet comment! Your blog is really fabulous and I’ll be back often! This dish looks like the perfect meal to celebrate with!

  13. Oh yea i’ve made it (comments) before January 15th! Anyway i remember u talking about this and now i see the goodness. Thanks for sharing. I MUST make this. Girrrrrrrrrrrrrl! I absolutely LOVE oxtail. It so doesn’t help me to read your blog when i’m freakin’ starving. Dangit B!

  14. I am probably the only cuban on earth that has never eaten rabo (or lengua for that matter)!!! Not even when I was a meat eater even though it was and still is one of Papi’s favorite dishes (your grandfather). You mom always makes it for him and he always loves it….

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