Friday, June 5, 2009

Rabo Encendido (Cuban Oxtail Stew)

My Tata's recipe for this delicious stew is composed of oxtail braised in a rich tomato and red wine based sauce with carrots and potatoes. Yes, yes, you might think "Another Cuban tomato based dish? They are all the same!" Well WRONG! Slight changes really make a completely new dish.

Rabo Encendido literally translates to "Tail on Fire" but "Rabo" can also refer to in slang, a male's... well you know penis a.k.a. "dick" so it could also be translated to "Dick on Fire" ha ha. My family and I were laughing last night. We were like, "Mañana vamos a comer Moros, Rabo Encendido, y Platanos a Puñetazos." ha ha. It sounds so rude, "Moros" means "Moors" (as in Moroccans but we actually mean white rice steamed with black beans) and I explained the oxtail already and the "Platanos a Puñetazos" translates to "Punched Plantains." Word play is funny. I have no idea who came up with these names originally. So for dinner we're having some Moors, dick on fire, and some punched plantains! We ended up eating it with just white rice (I was tired to make any other sides that day, I went to sleep like at 2 AM and didn't get much of it.)

Any who, the name is deceiving because although "Rabo Encendido" means "Tail on Fire," this dish is not spicy at all. I have not seen any Cuban that makes this dish spicy. Cuban dishes traditionally (or at least what I have always had) are always absent of spiciness. They are not spicy, but hot from the smokey flavors of cumin, black pepper, and Spanish varieties of smoked paprika. Although having Tabasco sauce as a condiment on the table is not rare, in my household (having a Mexican mother), very spicy homemade sauces used as condiments are common things that are always available at the dinner table regardless of what meal we are having.

-4 1/2 lbs. oxtail
-1 large green bell pepper (minced)
-1 large onion (minced)
-1/2 head garlic (peeled, mashed to a paste via mortar & pestle or through a garlic press)
-1/2- 1 cup red wine
-3-4 ripe tomatoes (pureed or blended, or 2 cans of 8 oz. tomato sauce, or 1 can that is 15 oz.)
-2 large whole bay leaves
-1 teaspoonful ground cumin
-25-30 whole black peppercorns
-1 1/2- 3 cups water (depends how thin or thick you like it)
-salt to taste (at least 2 teaspoons)
-2-3 medium potatoes (peeled and cut in 4)
-5-7 carrots (about 1 pound, cut into 1-2 inch rounds)
-1/2 a bunch of parsley or cilantro (washed, stems removed, minced well)
-extra-virgin olive oil

(1) Cut some lines to make gap between the firm outer skin on the oxtail because it shrinks and you don't want it to constrict the meat in a weird way. Heat a large metal pot on very high heat WITHOUT ANY OIL until it's really hot. To see if it's hot, just sprinkle some water on it and if the water dances or instantly disappears, it's ready. Add the meat it on the fattiest side down. It should make a screaming like noise from the high heat, not a sizzle, but a thunder like sound. Do not move the meat! Let it brown and set it aside on a plate or bowl.
(2) The pan should have a blackish browning on the bottom. This is gonna lend the dish a great, strong, meaty, smokey flavor. The meat has also rendered plenty of fat so you don't need to add any oil yet unless you don't have enough. Now add the onions with bell peppers and sautee them over medium high for 7 minutes until they are see through and fragrant. At this point, add more olive oil if it is needed, then add garlic and sautee for an additional 3 minutes. Add wine and reduce the heat in half. Let it bubble and stir to deglaze the bottom. Add tomato, bay leaves, cumin, salt, and black peppercorns. Bring it to a boil and reduce 5-10 minutes stirring occasionally. Feel free to click on the picture of the pan with the oil to see how much oil it rendered.
(3) At this point, add the oxtail and stir, and then add water to barely cover meat (so you could still see the meat, should be about 2 cups to 3 cups of water, 16 oz.- 24 oz.). Swish it a bit and bring to a strong boil. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Towards the last 20- 30 minutes of cooking, add the potatoes and carrots. When the potatoes and carrots are tender, turn off the heat and sprinkle cilantro or parsley over.
It already looks mouthwatering! This picture came out really clear. Feel free to also enlarge this one. Yes, yes, I know I am a bad photographer, sorry I didn't take classes and am not educated in the subject of photography. I still think it looks damn good though!Goes great with white rice and can be served with moors, fried plantains or a salad, etc.

* My Tata makes a really delicious type of Chinese Cuban fusion dish that can be called "Rabo Encendido Estilo Chino Cubano," (Cuban Chinese Oxtail Stew). You can check out the post for it right here:

* Also I really enjoy this hot chili garlic paste that my mother makes. We have at the table as a condiment. I actually had some with this dish (I just enjoy the kick):


*I was sooooo tempted to add a tablespoon of "Hot Smoked Spanish Paprika from La Vera" (Pimienton Picante de la Vera) or some Sweet Smoked Spanish Paprika. Maybe next time I'll give it a try with this but I wanted it to be as traditional as possible.

(Heck! I ain't gonna go kill my own cow, grow my own vegetables, press my own olive oil, and cook it over a wood fire outdoors in a clay pot just so I could make this as old school as possible!)


FOODalogue said...

One of my've got a good recipe there.

Mamey said...

Sounds great...I make it almost the same, but without potatoes (will do so next time). Sometimes I make it with salted 'vino seco' instead of red wine. I have found that jokes abound in many Cuban tables when it comes to having 'rabo encendido'('encendido' can also be translated as 'turned on.'). Heh, heh, as you would say.

Nathan said...

Oye Mamey, la verdad que tu estilo de cocina se oye riquisimo, se que te lo e' dicho mil veces pero de verdad debes acer un blog o po' lo menos mandarme una que otra receta el "Salmon en Salsa Vizcaina" que me ensenates era de lo mejor :)

Jeje los cubanos somos tremendos jaja, me canta nuestro lenguaje y estilo de hablar.

eatingclubvancouver_js said...

I love oxtails -- and I have to try making a Cuban dish soon. Looks delish and thanks for the explanations of the terms. Funny.

San said...

Thank you so much!!!! I am not Cuban but my fiance's parents are and he recently told me that he wanted me to cook rabo encendido for his birthday! Of course I wanted to impress him and not to hear the classic: 'My mom makes it...' Ugh! so I went online and all I can say is thank you for saving my day!! Not only I made a delicious Oxtail but your recipe for rice pudding was awesome!!! The pics make it even easier and it's fun to read the blog!!! I got some kudos for this! But you can take the credit!! Kisses

Nathan said...


I'm real happy to know that I was able to help, hope the recipe was able to kick your potential mother in laws "Rabo Encendido" in the behind haha j/k. :D

Anonymous said...

¡¡¡Gracias por la receta, la estoy haciendo ahora mismo y el olor es increible!!!

Nathan said...

Let me know how it turns out, it's one of my favorite Cuban dishes :)

Anonymous said...

Rabo does not ever translate into penis. Rabo will always refer to the rear end of a body, never the front. Tail on fire or butt on fire are a more literal translation. Not cuban male would ever fancy eating a penis on fire.

Nathan said...

Rabo doesn't directly translate to "penis" or "dick" it literally translates to "tail" but it can be used in a way to have a "double meaning" and has been used to refer to a "penis" or "dick" like have you heard of the saying of someone being a "viejo rabo verde" as I said in my post

"Rabo Encendido literally translates to "Tail on Fire" but "Rabo" can also refer to in slang, a male's... well you know penis a.k.a. "dick" so it could also be translated to "Dick on Fire"

& as one of my CUBAN readers "Mamey" commented as well "encendido" can translated as "turned on" so it can be used in double meaning to make sexual suggestions.

Maybe you just were never exposed to it being used that way. Is it vulgar to use it that way, well yeah. Can it be funny, well yeah. Ha ha. Does it bug some people, well well yeah but I was just sharin my story.

And a gay Cuban male might fancy a penis on fire okay :-P This was just meant to be funny.

Nilotic Diva said...

Oh My Goodness Nathan,
This is now my favorite way to prepair oxtails. I came across your site by accident but maybe if was not an accident at all. I have found several dishes I am looking forward to make soon. Thank you so much for sharing your family dishes and heritage to the world.

Kimberly said...


I used to have a recipe for making oxtail (the West African way) but I lost it. So I went online and searched for some recipes before coming across yours.

I have to say, it is amazing!!! The only changes I made were adding 1/4 cup of "red wine vinegar" instead of actual red wine but it added a nice little flavor. Also I left out the potatoes and carrots.

Thanks so much for the recipe and keep up the good work!

Nathan said...

Sounds delicious, yup the red wine vinegar would work well here, and leaving out the carrots and potatoes is fine too, I just add it because well it makes the dish grow, and the carrots and potatoes is almost like another side dish :)

Karina said...

Hi Nathan,

I made sure to add you to my Yahoo page that way I can look at all of your new and upcoming recipes. Making Rabo Encendido for my mom this weekend!! You had the best recipe!!

Have you thought of any Argentinian or Uruguyian recipes to post?? I would like that....hint hint.


Unknown said...

Hey Nathan,
I really love your recipe especially since you cut out a lot of the prep work.. I always stuck to the grandma way but i love this because i don't have to prep the meat the night before and it taste the same. My family usually soaks the meat in the wine and olive oil for 4-8 hours before starting to cook. So your recipe is awesome!!! Thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

Great flavor. I added smoked paprika and it turned out great. But I cooked the oxtail for four hours instead of one and a half. The meat was still tough at the time you suggested. But at four hours it was falling off the bone and the flavor of the sauce become much richer.

Nathan said...

Your right I need to edit the recipe, it can take longer sometimes. Glad recipe worked out :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

Just wanted to say thanks for this recipe. I made it the other day & it came out awesome. Keep up the awesome posts- will have to try your other recipes soon!


Jorge A. Morales said...

I just SMOKED my entire apartment on Step #1...what did I do wrong?

Still cooking the recipe...

Nathan said...

Jorge A. Morales,
Sorry to hear that, umm maybe you left it in the pan to long, like try not to do it for a very long time just enough to brown it well on one side or in most parts fast, then when you remove it just lower the heat or turn it off all together, and add the olive oil to heat around medium or so then start the sofrito. Sorry that happened

Anonymous said...

I found this blog and this recipe. It's been almost 20 yrs since I moved to Texas from Puerto Rico. I almost slapped myself silly - I had forgotten this dish. Now that I have your recipe, I will cook it for the boys (I have 5 sons). After they have eaten, I'll probably describe it in Cuban terms. LMAO.

A grateful Puerto Rican,


Anonymous said...


Great Recipe!!! I made it last night and everyone loved it. I followed your cooking instructions but switched up the spices a little bit. I tripled the amount of cumin to 3 tps because I wanted that to be that flavor that stood out the most. Next, I added a little Cayanne pepped (ground) just to give a little heat to the flavor. I noticed you garnished with parsley at the end; I thought that was wonderful because the green of the parsley really stands out against the deep red stew color!!! One last point, If you like your potatoes an carrots soft like I do in stew add them about 45 minutes to an hour before the dish has finished cooking.

Thank you Nathan,
Jeff Courtney
West New York, NJ