Spanish Bull Tail Stew (Rabo de Toro Recipe) - Spanish Sabores

Spanish Bull Tail Stew (Rabo de Toro Recipe)

One of the most delicious cold-weather dishes in Spain is bull tail (nowadays oxtail) stew. This easy rabo de toro recipe is a Spanish classic, served in traditional restaurants throughout the country. You can make it at home with my mother-in-law’s traditional recipe.

A bowl of Spanish bull tail stew served over mashed potatoes.
Delicious Spanish rabo de toro.

Braised bull tail, oxtail stew, rabo de toro, braised oxtail… this famous Spanish dish goes by many names.

When you find rabo de toro in a restaurant in Spain, you aren’t guaranteed that it is actually bull tail. It’s highly unlikely, however. More likely it’s oxtail or cow tail, but without going into the differences between all of these animals, let’s just agree that it is nearly always delicious!

I first tried this dish in Cordoba, where rabo de toro is one of the city’s most famous dishes. It was served next to a heap of french fries and the plate was covered in a thick brown gravy. The meat melted in your mouth. I was hooked on this comforting stew!

Rabo de Toro, stewed bull tail, is one of my favorite dishes to eat during the winter in Spain!
A heaping plate of rabo de toro in Cordoba

Later, I learned my mother-in-law, Antonia, made an excellent version. Her rabo de toro recipe changes slightly each time, depending on the wine she might have open, and sometimes she’ll add pearl onions to the dish as well (a great idea!). But I’ve decided to share her classic version, which has kept me warm on many occasions. 

The Origins of Rabo de Toro

Spanish bull tail stew (found on most menus as rabo de toro estofado) is one of Spain’s most typical stews

It actually dates back to Roman times, and rabo de toro is actually an Andalusian creation, allegedly inspired in Córdoba. Traditionally made after the bullfights, the dish spread throughout the rest of Spain, and is especially popular in Madrid where bullfights are still popular today.

Many bars surrounding the Plaza de Toros (the bullring) in Madrid serve braised bull tail, although they are no longer able to use the tail of the just killed bull. Each restaurant has its own special recipe for Spanish bull tail stew, some using red wine, others opting for Andalusian sherry, or even a bit of brandy.

The bull tail needs to be braised (cooked slowly over low heat) because it is extremely bony, fatty, and tough. But once it cooks long enough, it becomes so tender that it nearly dissolves in your mouth (similar to my Spanish beef stew recipe).

Here is my favorite Spanish rabo de toro recipe, based on Antonia’s signature rabo de toro. I remind you, cooking rabo de toro takes a lot of patience, but if you wait long enough the rewards are delicious!

Key Ingredients

Ingredients for rabo de toro laid out on a wooden tray: red wine, minced garlic, diced red pepper, beef stock, chopped carrots, diced onion, diced leeks, diced tomato, salt, pepper, ground ginger, cloves and bay leaves.
Raw oxtail on a plate.

Key ingredients: oxtail, red wine, minced garlic, diced red pepper, beef stock, chopped carrots, diced onion, diced leeks, diced tomato, salt, pepper, ground ginger, cloves, bay leaves, and flour (not pictured).

Ingredient Notes & Substitutions 

  • Flour: It’s not pictured above but it’s important. Dusting the oxtail with flour will help build a thick and delicious sauce, but you can omit if you prefer without an effect on flavor.
  • Wine: Make sure you use decent red wine — nothing fancy, but it should be drinkable. It gives a lot of flavor to the stew! Antonia sometimes substitutes some of the red wine for sherry or brandy. 
  • Spices: Ginger is not a traditional ingredient, but I love it! Feel free to omit if you prefer. And if you like even more of a spiced flavor, add more cloves.
  • Oxtail substitutions: Oxtail can easily be substituted for osso bucco, beef shanks, beef short ribs on the bone, veal neck, and veal shank.
  • Additions: Antonia sometimes adds a little something extra to this dish, after puréeing the sauce. Options include mushrooms and pearl onions. Both are delicious.

Rabo de Toro: Step by Step

Cooking rabo de toro step by step: raw oxtail seasoned with salt and pepper on a plate, browned oxtail in a skillet, oxtail resting on a plate, and diced onion, leek and pepper in a pan.

Steps 1-2: Start by seasoning the raw oxtail with plenty of salt and pepper and then lightly dusting each piece with flour. Sear the oxtail on all sides in a heavy skillet filled with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Steps 3-4: Once browned, remove the oxtail and let it rest on a plate. Then add the diced vegetables to the skillet — you can add a bit more olive oil if necessary.

Cooking rabo de toro step by step: Chopped carrots and bay leaves on top of sauteed onion, leek and pepper in a pot, a pot of oxtail stew covered in red wine, bubbling oxtail stew cooking at a simmer in a pot, a plate of braised oxtail served over mashed potatoes and decorated with parsley in a white bowl. raw oxtail seasoned with salt and pepper on a plate, browned oxtail in a skillet, oxtail resting on a plate, and diced onion, leek and pepper in a pan.

Steps 5-6: Let the vegetables cook for about ten minutes until tender. Stir every so often so they don’t burn or stick — but a little caramelization is wonderful for flavor. Next, add the carrots, bay leaves, ginger, and cloves and sautée for one minute. Then add the oxtail back to the pot and cover with the red wine and stock. Make sure everything is fully covered — add a bit more stock if necessary. 

Steps 7-8: Bring everything to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer (covered) for about three to four hours. You’ll know it’s finished when the sauce has reduced, and the oxtail is super tender. It should be falling off the bone! 

Take the oxtail, bay leaves, and cloves out of the pot and purée the sauce. Then add the oxtail back in. Ideally, enjoy this the next day once the flavors have had a chance to develop even more. When you do serve this dish, serve with potatoes or rice. 

Rabo de toro in a white bowl served over mashed potatoes
The final result is so delicious!

Recipe Tips & FAQs

Antonia shares the following tips:

  • Time is your friend, it might need more than three hours. It should be tender and falling off the bone when finished. Keep going if in doubt!
  • You can use a pressure cooker if you prefer, just adjust the time.
  • Some people don’t purée the sauce, but I would really recommend it. It will give you a gorgeous thick gravy that is perfect with this dish.
  • Like any great stew, it will taste better the day after you make it! So try to wait, or at least make enough to enjoy leftovers!
What animal is oxtail?

Oxtail currently comes from a cow (it is cow’s tail). In the past, it was the tail of an ox but today we use the term oxtail to mean cow’s tail.

Is oxtail a delicacy?

Today rabo de toro (oxtail) is considered a delicacy in Spain. It used to be a cheap cut of meat, but nowadays can be quite expensive. It is served at many fine dining restaurants, but also at traditional taverns.

How much oxtail should I buy per person?

The rule is usually about 1lb. (half a kilo) of oxtail per serving. Remember that much of the oxtail is bone and fat, so you need a bit more than with other cuts of meat.

Are oxtails tough?

Oxtail is a very tough cut of meat, which is why it is best for stewing. When stewed for many hours the tough tissues break down and the meat becomes tender and delicious.

Serving Suggestions

Rabo de toro is traditionally served with homemade french fries at most casual restaurants. You’ll also find it served over delicious mashed potatoes (like my Manchego mashed potatoes). It would be perfect served with rice too. 

Because this is such a rich dish, I would recommend pairing a crisp salad or green vegetable with it on the side. In Spain, we don’t usually serve anything as a side (apart from the potatoes!), but I always make a simple salad, sautéed spinach, or roasted asparagus.

Lastly — the wine! This is a rich, hearty dish so it’s perfect paired with a very full-bodied wine. You could serve a Spanish Rioja or Ribera del Duero, or even a Toro or more modern Andalusian red wine.

More Simple Spanish Stews

If you like this hearty stew, bookmark these recipes for next time!

  • Pollo en Pepitoria: One of my favorite chicken stews, this is made with an addictive almond and saffron sauce.
  • Fricando Stew: This incredible slow-cooked beef with mushrooms recipe is a winter favorite in my kitchen.
  • Basque Tuna Stew: This recipe for marmitako is a super simple and healthy tuna stew I absolutely love. 
  • Chorizo and White Bean Stew: I am a huge fan of bean stews in the winter and this sausage and white bean combination doesn’t disappoint.

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Rabo de Toro, stewed bull tail, is one of my favorite dishes to eat during the winter in Spain!

Spanish Bull Tail Stew (Rabo de Toro)

Spanish bull tail stew (also known as rabo de toro estofado or oxtail stew) is one of Spain’s most typical dishes. Dating back to Roman times, rabo de toro is a delicious slow cooked meal worth trying!
5 from 8 votes
Print (images optional) Pin Rate
Course: Main
Cuisine: Spanish
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours 10 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 25 minutes
Servings: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • About 3-4 pounds of rabo de toro oxtail, cow tail, etc.
  • 3 carrots sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 1 large sweet onion diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 1 leek diced
  • 2-3 ripe tomatoes diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic minced
  • 2 cups of beef stock
  • 3 cups of red wine a decent table wine like a Spanish rioja or tempranillo will do nicely.
  • 2 bay leafs
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Flour to coat the meat
  • Olive oil

Instructions

  • Season the bull tail with salt and pepper.
    Raw bull tail (oxtail) seasoned with salt and pepper
  • In a large, heavy pan (cast iron works great) heat a splash of olive oil to a medium high heat (not yet smoking).
    Olive oil in a cast iron pan
  • Lightly dust the rabo de toro with flour (shake away excess) and sear each piece in the hot oil until nicely browned, about 30 seconds per side.
    Oxtail coated in flour searing in a cast iron pan
  • Remove the bull tail and let the pieces rest.
    Seared and browned oxtail on a ceramic plate
  • In the pan's oil, saute the leek, onion, garlic, red pepper, and tomato for about 10 minutes.
    Diced onion, leek and red pepper in a cast iron skillet
  • Add the carrots, bay leafs, ginger, and cloves and saute 1 minute.
    Chopped carrots, bay leafs, and onion, leek, red pepper sauté in a large pot
  • Add the bull tail back to the pan and cover with the wine and stock.
    Bull tail in a pot covered with red wine and stock.
  • Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a slow simmer.
    Rabo de toro simmering in a metal pot
  • Cook the rabo de toro for 3 hours and then check to see if it is falling away from the bone. It may need another hour or so if the meat is very tough.
  • If it is tender enough, remove the meat and then puree the sauce with a hand blender (not necessary but nice).
  • Serve with the sauce and homemade french fries or mashed potatoes for an authentic Spanish meal!
    Finished Rabo de toro on a plate over mashed potato and with parsley

Notes

Top Tips & Substitutions

 
  • Flour: Dusting the oxtail with flour will help build a thick and delicious sauce, but you can omit if you prefer without an effect on flavor.
  • Wine: Make sure you use decent red wine — nothing fancy, but it should be drinkable. It gives a lot of flavor to the stew! Antonia sometimes substitutes some of the red wine for sherry or brandy. 
  • Spices: Ginger is not a traditional ingredient, but I love it! Feel free to omit if you prefer. And if you like even more of a spiced flavor, add more cloves.
  • Oxtail substitutions: Oxtail can easily be substituted for osso bucco, beef shanks, beef short ribs on the bone, veal neck, and veal shank.
  • Additions: Antonia sometimes adds a little something extra to this dish, after puréeing the sauce. Options include mushrooms and pearl onions. Both are delicious.
  • Time is your friend, it might need more than three hours. It should be tender and falling off the bone when finished. Keep going if in doubt!
  • You can use a pressure cooker if you prefer, just adjust the time.
Did you make this recipe?Tag @spanishsabores on IG and hashtag it #spanishsabores!

Update note: This recipe was originally published on January 22, 2013 and was republished with new photos and information on November 18, 2020.

Spanish bull tail stew is one of the most delicious winter dishes you can make. This recipe is guaranteed success, you just have to wait patiently with a glass of wine and a good movie while it cooks– and you must enjoy it with good company, as the Spanish do!

Have you ever tried rabo de toro before? How was it prepared?

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