Oxtail is packed with meat, connective tissue and a generous layer of fat, but it doesn't require much work to break down. Oxtail averages about 3 feet long, and you have to cut it into manageable segments before you can cook it. But before you can cut it, you have to strip it of its copious covering of fat, which makes the spaces between the bones visible. The spaces between the bones serve as a natural guide for the knife. With the tail in segments, you can see the substantial amount of meat, collagen and marrow it contains.
Cut the oxtail in half to make it easier to work with. You can use any heavy sharp knife; a regular chef's knife or cook's knife will do.
Grasp a piece of the oxtail by one of the ends; it doesn't matter which end. Use a towel to improve your grip if you need to. Position the blade of a chef's knife or filet knife facing away from you against the fat covering the tail at a slight downward angle.
Slice the fat off the tail in strips. Slice a strip of fat off, rotate the tail in your hand a little, then slice another strip of fat off. Turn the tail around and grasp it by the other end and repeat. Strip the fat off the other half of the tail when you finish with the first.
Go over the tail halves again with the knife, slicing away any pieces of fat that you missed the first time around. Trim off the loose pieces of fat and connective tissue that hang off the wide end of the tail, the end that was connected to the rump of the animal.
Slice the tail into segments using the space between the bones as a guide. The spaces between the bones become visible when you trim the fat away. The tail bones are connected to each other with tissue similar to ligaments, and you can use a chef's knife or cook's knife to sever them.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.