My mother used to work at Cooper’s Sportswear on Frelinghuysen Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. Back in the 70s and 80s Cooper’s Sportswear was a large clothing factory which mostly employed immigrant women from all over the world. In 1984 Cooper had the distinction of manufacturing the US Olympic team with all its jackets. When my mother worked there it was mostly women from Latin America and Portugal. These ladies would trade recipes and my mother would often bring home some new and exotic recipes none of which my father ever liked. So it was with some trepidation that he tried this dish whose exact origins is unknown…other than it came from the Cooper recipe exchange. Well this was the diamond in the rough as everyone (including my father) loved it! Over the years my parents cooked this and it was rare if a week went by that we didn’t have it. Oxtails were a lot cheaper back then before it graced the menus at high quality restaurants. The exact origin of this dish is unknown but I suspected it was Portuguese given the “refogado” method of cooking. A classic style of cooking protein in Portugal (e.g. meat or fish) is to throw all the ingredients into a pot and slowly sweat it until a thick and rich sauce develops. Most often you place a bed of vegetables above a thin layer of olive oil then stack the meat and other ingredients on top with the protein being last. This style of the “refogado” is often reserved for stews. Over the years as the price of oxtails has risen I have substituted other cuts of beef, chicken and even turkey wings. If you are adding poultry substitute the beef cube below with a chicken cube. This recipe won the Rumba Meats recipe of the month back in February 2014. Rumba has since taken this recipe off its site but I was able to salvage it by using the “Way Back Machine” website which archives web pages. ***NOTES: The ingredients can be layered anyway you want but the vegetables and olive oil are first and the protein is last on top. There are two very important rules for this dish: (1) the canned beans only go in at the end and, (2) the savoy cabbage only goes in 30 minutes prior to the dish being finished. Otherwise, feel free to play around with the order of the ingredients in the pot Massa de pimentão is a traditional Portuguese sweet pepper paste and can be found online or at specialty food retailers.
- 2 packages of Rumba® oxtails
- 1/8 cup Portuguese olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 2 tablespoons massa de pimentão
- 1 heaping tablespoon paprika
- 1 cube of beef bouillon
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 4 oz tomato paste
- 1 28-ounce can diced canned tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 savoy cabbage (cut into eighths)
- 1 can white cannellini beans, drained (liquid reserved)
- 1 can red kidney beans, drained (liquid reserved)
- In a Dutch oven or heavy-duty pot, layer the olive oil, onions, carrots, garlic, oxtails, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, massa de pimentão, spices, bay leaf, and whole beef bouillon cube.
- Let everything simmer covered for about 15-20 minutes over low to medium heat and gently shaking occasionally to mix the ingredients. Do not remove the lid just shake gently.
- After 15-20 minutes, uncover pot to see if a thick, rich sauce (or refogado) has developed. If not, continue to cook for a while longer until the sauce has formed.
- Once the sauce has formed it should cover the meat slightly. If necessary, take the reserved liquid from the canned beans and add it to the pot to increase sauce to correct level. If there is still not enough liquid after adding liquid from beans, add tap water or white wine to achieve the desired level. Once you have the right amount of liquid, increase the heat to medium-high and cook covered for 30 minutes.
- After approximately 30 minutes, add the savoy cabbage being careful to nestle it in the sauce. Cook for another 30 minutes and turn off the heat.
- Add the drained beans to the pot and carefully stir. Let stand for 10 minutes and serve over white rice.