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I've been hungry for a light oxtail soup, and managed to find some (around 1.5lb) frozen at the butcher. I'm aiming for light flavor to go alongside leeks and bulgar, so I figured I would simmer the oxtails until they fall apart, pull out the bones and simmering veggies, and then add sweated leeks and bulgar and reheat.

I let them thaw for 2 days, and then earlier today put them on a baking sheet for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, turned, and did another 10 minutes to lightly brown.

Afterwards I put them in a slow cooker with some veggies, 4 cups of water, 2 cups of beef bullion, and 1 cup of cream sherry, and set it to a low heat. to start simmering. I am planning to simmer for around 20 hours, but at about 5 hours in the oxtail chunks are still very tight - think the texture of a steak that's been cooked, put in a refrigerator and then reheated. I know I have another 15 hours to go, but still, I would have thought I'd see it breaking down a little bit more by now. I didn't try and slice off any of the meat from the bone, so maybe that is it?

Did I do something wrong, or am I jumping the gun timewise? Candid feedback is appreciated!

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Was it already simmering at the beginning of the five hours, or do the five hours include time to come up to temperature? It takes a long time for a slow cooker on low to start simmering with that much in it, especially if it wasn't warm to begin with. –  Jefromi Jun 18 '13 at 0:29
    
That's a really good point, it does include the time to come up to temperature. –  Matthew Jun 18 '13 at 0:31
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

A common braising time for oxtails would be on the order of 2-4 hours.

Oxtails are a tough cut of meat, with a lot of connective tissue made of a protein called collagen. It needs to cook in a hot, moist environment in order to hydrate into gelatin.

This process happens over time and temperature. Typically, braising is on the order of 200 degrees F (93 C), give or take, in order to get the expected tender product in the expected time.

If your oxtails have not become tender already in the 5 hours you have already given them, perhaps your slow cooker's low setting is not hot enough. This is of special concern because you also want it to be at least 140 F (60 C) for safety.

I strongly urge you to use an instant read thermometer and measure the temperature at several places within the pot. If it is not above the safety threshold, you should discard the contents, which would have been essentially incubating for the entire time.

If it is lower than the desired braising temperature, you can try your high setting, or transfer your braise to the oven (if the crock is oven safe, or in another covered oven safe pot such as a dutch oven). Oven braising is usually done at about 350 F (180 C), which should bring the contents up to the desired braising temperature.

In any case, an expected cook time of 20 hours seems excessive by a factor of about 4 times.

Note also: if your goal is to produce beef stock for the soup rather than tender, delectable meat, you want the temperature up around a slow simmer, which is about 200 F (93 C), although at the end, the flavor will have gone from the meat into the broth. Even for stock making, I cannot imagine a cook time being required in excess of more than 8-12 hours.

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Hm, the braising period was definitely far too short at the very least. I have verified that I am at a simmer. I do have to respectfully disagree about the cooking time though, simmering for extended periods of time is not unheard of (it's essential for certain meats, like corned beef). 20 hours sous vide for oxtail supposedly creates a melting texture. I don't have a sous vide though. This is part of what inspired my cooking time: seriouseats.com/2011/03/… –  Matthew Jun 18 '13 at 0:13
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You are welcome to disagree, but I checked about 5 recipes before posting that, and several more just now. This recipe from Serious Eats is typical, and in the middle of the range at 3 hours: seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/02/… –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 18 '13 at 0:18
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Also, you cannot really apply sous-vide times (which expect and require a carefully controlled temperature) to a slow cooker, which is not precise in any way. However, assuming that you somehow have achieved 175 for a 10 hour slow cook, then the first thing that will happen is all of the proteins will denature and tighten, making the meat very tough because it is well done. Only over the ensuing hours would the collagen to gelatin transformation happen and make it fall-apart tender. If that is the case, then you must simply be patient. –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 18 '13 at 0:23
    
Note also, if Kenji's time/temp curve is correct for collagen conversion (which I have no doubts on), then typical internal temperatures on braising must be closer to 200 F than 180 F, because the typical required times are well known and have good consensus. –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 18 '13 at 0:24
    
I agree about simmering vs sous vide, I was pointing more towards the temperature similarity of holding the meat at a simmering temperature (180-205) for the extended period of time. As I read more recipes I think your last suggestion may be the case. I have found further recipes for oxtail in slow cookers and many do seem to point to a cook time of at least 8-10 hours - once you have hit simmering. I will stop it tomorrow morning a little bit beyond that. I think that it should end up where I intend, if not, well, at least it will be a lovely broth :) –  Matthew Jun 18 '13 at 0:29
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Ive cooked oxtail every 2 weeks for the last 6 years. I put it on the stove top 3-3.5 hours and then in the oven for 3 hours.

Only once did they seize. The reason was I used too high a temp at the very beginning. The other reason it might happen is a ridiculously old ox was involved.

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You specify that you used two high a temp, but you don't specify what temp might be correct. That would be helpful. –  talon8 Jan 16 at 18:49
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