Saturday, January 22, 2011

BEEF CUTS - Rabo (Oxtail)

There's an old saying about eating pigs - "You can eat everything but the squeal." Although Brazilians do eat pork, they are much more beef lovers when it comes to favorite cuts of meat. So perhaps that old saw should be adapted to Brazilians something like this - "Brazilians eat everything on the cow except the moo." Certainly they eat the whole animal, be it cow or steer, from head to tail - literally. One of the favorite cuts of many Brazilians is the tail of the animal, which they call rabo and which is generally known in English as oxtail.

This cut of meat is full of connective tissue and fat, and as such must be braised for a long time over low heat to release its qualities - and it is a quality cut, if handled right. There's no such thing as an oxtail steak, for obvious reasons. It would be fatty and very, very chewy indeed.

The region of Brazil that's most intimately associated with rabo is the mountainous interior state of Minas Gerais. This region is Brazil's dairyland, famous for milk and cheese, and so there's a ready supply of cattle for butchering. Also, because of it's mid-southerly location and its high altitude in Minas Gerais the winter months of June/July/August can be cold indeed, especially at night when the temperature can approach 32F (0C). Perfect weather for enjoying a hearty and nourishing stew of slow-cooked meat and root vegetables - Brazilian comfort food. Which is exactly what the most well-known dish made is rabo is - an oxtail stew called rabada, rich and redolent. And very filling!

Rabada is eaten all over the country, and in Brazil there seems to be none of the cultural resistance to this delicious cut that exists in some other countries. It's in Minas Gerais, however, where it's most highly appreciated. Rabada is a staple menu item in Mineiro restaurants around the country (Mineiro means "in the style of Minas Gerais" or "from Minas Gerais"). But like so many traditional dishes, rabada tastes best in its home territory, perhaps on a cold night in one of the historic mining towns of Minas Gerais, like Ouro Preto, or Tiradentes, or Diamantina. On a hot tropical night in the Amazon or along the northeastern coast, it's just as delicious, but it's just not quite so much at home.

In the next post here on Flavors of Brazil there will be a recipe for rabanada. Oxtail is generally available in good butcher shops in North America and Europe, even though it might not be featured on supermarket shelves. Ask your butcher for it on a cold rainy or snowy day, early in the morning. Let it cook all afternoon, and in the evening you'll be warmed down to the very cockles of your heart. I promise. Give oxtail a try - you won't regret it.


  1. Thank you for the information on rabo! I remember my mother cooking oxtail soup on the cold winter days in Maine. Now I know, here it is rabo and I can make rabo soup for the cold rainy days in Fortaleza.