Refrito stewed oxtail with grits

El Señor Hubs and I are BIG fans of Cuban food.  Back in Jersey, we used to eat at this lonchería-style restaurant called Rumba’s, which served authentic Cuban food.  The food was homemade delicious at a great price.  Needless to say, we ate there at least twice a week.  Rumba’s was our saviour when we got home pooped-tired after 12 hours of work.


I think I just made a new phrase.

Anyway, one of my favorite dishes is the ubiquitous Rabo Encendido, which translates to “Tail on Fire”, as in Oxtail on Fire.  Weird, huh?  While the name would suggest this dish is spicy, it’s not the case.  In this aspect, Cuban cooking resembles Ecuadorian cooking.  Our food is not spicy.  Rabo encendido is oxtail cooked low and slow in a colorful combination of vegetables and liquids, which results in a very flavorful, fall-off-the-bone meat stew.  My mouth waters just thinking about it.

The low and slow cooking method is one used in Ecuadorian cooking and it many cuisines around the world.  It is certainly one of my favorite methods of cooking.  You can leave stuff on the stove or in the oven for a couple of hours or more, and do laundry, read a book, paint a picture, chase your dog around, etc.  Before you know it, dinner is ready.

I took some cues from the Cuban Rabo encendido, but I infused a traditional Ecuadorian refrito as a base for this oxtail stew.  I also incorporated the French cooking technique of the mirepoix and made a very flavorful base for the oxtail.  Beef stock and dry red wine round up the flavors, which result in a decadent stew.  My only complaint: I just wish oxtail had more meat.

What would you serve this saucy, oxtail stew with?  Well, traditional Cuban cuisine will suggest you serve rabo with some rice.  However, I wanted to incorporate a bit of my “new home” into this dish.  So what do you eat while in the South?  Grits!  Grits makes a great side to this meal because it helps up soak up all the juices from the stew.  I made these grits using some refrito to tie the meal together.  There is enough flavor in the grits, but it doesn’t overpower the oxtail.

The pictures in this post do not make justice to how flavorful this meal is.  You see, by the time I got to serve and take pictures, I was losing natural light.

And we were starving.

And in a hurry to eat.

Screw the pictures.

I encourage you to make this over the weekend; your palate will thank you profusely.

Preparing the refrito:

We will start making the refrito.  This combination will result in about 2 cups of refrito.  We will use 1 cup for the oxtails, and about 1/4 cup for the grits.  The rest can be refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for 1 week.  I used my refrito to make some chicken later on the week and it was amazing!

Refrito ingredients

Roughly chop 1 large green pepper, 1 large tomato, 1 medium red onion and a small bunch of cilantro.

Pureeing refrito

Throw them into a food processor and blend away.

Preparing the oxtails:

Oxtail washed, patted dry

Wash and pat dry 3 lbs. of oxtail.  My local grocery store tends to sell them in 1.5 lbs packages; I find them easily accessible.  Three pounds of oxtail will feed 2 people generously, with probably another serving left over.

Seasoning oxtail

Season the oxtails on all sides with generous amounts of salt, ground black pepper and ground cumin.

Dredging oxtail in flour

Dredge the oxtail pieces on some flour.  I find this helps to dry out the pieces, so when you brown them in high temperature oil, it doesn’t splatter.  It also helps to thicken the stew sauce when we add the pieces to the liquids during the braising stage.

Searing oxtail

Heat some olive oil in a dutch oven at high heat, and sear the oxtail pieces on all sides,

Seared oxtails

Until they are golden brown.

Let oxtails rest

Once browned, remove them from the heat and set aside to rest.

Preparing the stew:

Sauteeing refrito

In the same dutch oven where the oxtail were seared, add 1 cup of the refrito and sautee in medium heat for a few minutes.  Stir around to combine the refrito with the pan drippings.

Seasoning refrito

Sautee the refrito with salt, ground pepper and ground cumin to taste.

Adding ground achiote

Add 1/4 tsp. of ground achiote powder for coloring.  Stir to combine.

Adding mirepoix

Add the mirepoix to the pot, which consists of 2 medium sized carrots, 2 stalks of celery and 1 cup of chopped yellow onions.  Stir to incorporate all the flavors.

Adding garlic cloves

Add three whole garlic cloves to the vegetables and stir.

Adding oxtail back

Add the seared oxtail pieces and any juices to the vegetables.

Adding beef stock

To all the vegetables and the oxtail, add 2 cups (16 oz.) of beef stock,

Adding red wine

Followed by 1 cup (8 oz.) of red wine.  A dry, table red wine works great.

Adding bay leaves

For even more flavor, add a couple of bay leaves – I used 2 dry bay leaves,

Adding tomato paste

And 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.  Stir everything.  Bring the stew to a boil.  Then lower the heat to low.  Let the stew simmer for 2.5-3 hours until the meat falls off the bones.

If you like the sauce chunky and love to taste the carrots, celery and onions, you can leave the sauce like it is.  Just remove the bay leaves before serving.  If you like a smoother sauce, which is the way I like it, remove the oxtails from the stew, and transfer the vegetables along with the liquid to a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Return the oxtails back to the stew and maintain warm until ready to serve.

Preparing the grits:

I followed the package directions for cooking grits, with the caveat of adding the refrito as the base.  I used 1 cup of dry grits, which yields ~ 4-5 servings, because I like lots of grits.  So here is what I did:

Sauteeing refrito for grits

In a sauce pan, heat a bit of vegetable oil and 1/4 cup of refrito, along with 1/4 tsp of salt.  Sautee for 3 minutes on medium heat.

Water for grits

Add enough water to cook the 1 cup of dry grits, which according to Quaker Old Fashioned Grits, is 5 cups.  Bring this to a boil.

Adding dry grits

Now add the cup of dry grits,

Whisking grits

And whisk vigorously to combine and thicken the grits.

Cooked grits

Cover and lower the heat to medium low and let the grits simmer for about 15 minutes until some of the liquid has evaporated.  Grits will be creamy and not dry.  You should be able to ladle them on your bowl – kind of like runny mashed potatoes.  Once the grits set, they usually congeal.  They sometimes remind me of jello shots – without the vodka.

Plating the stew:

Refrito stewed oxtail with grits

In a bowl, ladle some grits and place a couple of pieces of oxtail over the grits.  Ladle the liquids from the stew over the oxtail pieces.  Garnish with some chopped cilantro.  Inhale immediately.  ¡Buen provecho!

Refrito Stewed Oxtail with Grits

Yield: 2-3 servings (oxtail)


    For the refrito:
  • 1 large green pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 large tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro
  • For the stew:
  • 3 lbs. oxtail, washed and patted dry
  • Salt, ground pepper and ground cumin to season the oxtail pieces
  • Oil for sauteeing the refrito
  • 1 cup refrito (see above)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground achiote
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, whole
  • 2 cups (16 oz.) low sodium/salt-free beef stock
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) dry red wine
  • 2-3 dry bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • For grits (Using Quaker Old Fashioned Grits):
  • 1/4 cup refrito
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup old fashioned grits
  • For garnish:
  • chopped cilantro


    For the refrito:
  1. In a food processor, puree all the refrito ingredients. This will yield ~ 2 cups of refrito. Reserve 1 cup for the oxtail stew, and 1/4 cup for the grits. Refrigerate the remainder in a tightly closed container for 1 week.
  2. For the stew:
  3. Season the oxtail pieces with salt, ground pepper and ground cumin.
  4. Dredge the oxtail pieces in flour, shaking off any excess.
  5. In a dutch oven, heat some vegetable or olive oil on high heat.
  6. Add the oxtail pieces and sear on all sides until golden brown. Transfer the oxtail onto a platter and set aside.
  7. Using the same dutch oven with all the drippings, sautee 1 cup of the refrito for 3-5 minutes on medium heat.
  8. Season the refrito with salt, ground pepper, and ground cumin to taste. Add the ground achiote, and stir until combined.
  9. To the refrito, add the diced carrots, diced celery and diced onions. Add the garlic. Stir to combine all the flavors.
  10. Add the oxtail pieces to the refrito, along with any juices.
  11. Add the beef stock, the wine, the bay leaves and the tomato paste. Stir.
  12. Bring the stew to a boil. Then, lower the temperature to low and simmer for 2.5-3 hours until the oxtail meat falls off the bone.
  13. To make a smoother sauce, remove the oxtail from the braising liquid and set them aside. Discard the bay leaves.
  14. Transfer the braising liquid with all the vegetables to a blender and puree until smooth.
  15. Add the oxtail back into the sauce and keep warm until ready to serve.
  16. For the grits:
  17. In a sauce pan, heat some oil and sautee the reserved refrito. Season it with salt.
  18. Add the water to the sauce pan and bring the water to a boil.
  19. Add the grits and whisk briskly.
  20. Lower the heat to low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, whisking every so often, until the grits begin to thicken.
  21. Plating the stew:
  22. Ladle some grits in a bowl.
  23. Place a couple of pieces of oxtail per bowl (depending on how hungry you are), and add a few spoonfuls of the stew sauce over the oxtail and the grits.
  24. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve warm.