In spite of all the distasteful things seen by a cow's tail, it happens indeed to have its place among the most tasty parts of the beef (mouse-over the image on this page to know all the meat parts of a beef).
Is it the steady and sysiphian exercise to chase the flies that made this useful end so delightful, I don't know, but that's the way it is. We use to say that the the most beautiful flowers grow on the most putrid grounds, here is something that could posthumely comfort an extremity that has sadly been looked down and mocked during all of its hard-working life...
In France, the beef tail (queue de boeuf) is a winter dish. You can spot the strange geometric shapes of the cut-and-tied tail sections in the boucheries' refrigerated showcases, among the other, more familiar, beef parts. I mean, if you wake up early, because they rapidly find a taker, and the best way to get your hand on one is to order it to your neighborhood butcher.
The tail in general is a very muscular type of meat (imagine the muscle needed to slap the air all day long) which needs long cooking time on the stove, that's why also it's a winter dish. One noticeable thing about this meat is also that it is somehow gelatinous, which gives it this particular texture that you find in some pork meats. Just thinking to it makes me salivate...
First, you need to fry a couple of onions after having cut them into pieces beforehand. Do that with a cup of olive oil in the same iron-cast pot that will be used for the long cooking. When the onions have been softened and lightly fried, add the beef tail. Like for a Boeuf Bourguignon, you need to fry the tail lightly until its meat changes color, turning from bright red to light brown. All this must be done lid off, to check and have a correct, humidity-free frying. The frying stage gives a different taste to the meat, a better one than if the tail was put to cook in the wine right away. We got rid of the tie holding the tail sections together, so that we could turn them on all sides to fry them properly. The frying just takes a few minutes and you need to turn the meat around so that all the pieces and sides come in contact with the hot bottom. If needed, fry one tail block at a time if you have more beef-tail pieces than available surface in the bottom of the pot, we're not in a hurry and you will avoid disparities in the outside roasting of the meat.
You're supposed to choose a dark, tannic wine but I tried recently a clear-colored Pineau d'Aunis from the Coteaux du Loir for a Boeuf Bourguignon which made a very good job, even if at the end the wine had lost all its color and looked like lightly-turbid water. After being among the crowd who takes advantage of this cooking stage to dump a low-quality wine, I changed course and would now advise to avoid using an industrial wine or a plain mediocre wine here too. I have no real proof to support this but I think that a living wine, even cooked, will do a better job than an additives-enhanced one. I would say that you can use a wine that you find otherwise too tannic, the young tannins being a drawback in the glass will be an advantage for the long cooking of the meat. You don't need to drink the same wine with the beef-tail dish than the one you use here, plus you'll need a full bottle to drown (or nearly drown) all the beef-tail blocks. I used [I had forgotten to name the wine] a Touraine Côt 2002 by Jean-Francois Roy, a Loire vintner that I have not yet profiled, except for this story about winter pruning. Tasted in a glass before being poured into the pot, this Côt (Malbec) was still tannic and had a well-balanced mouth.
Before putting back the lid and beginning the long cooking on the stove, add thyme, rosmarin (not too much of the latter), and whole (ungrinded) pepper. Don't add salt at this stage, it would take out too much substance from the meat, you don't want the sauce to have all the taste at the expense of the beef tail.
Once the boiling temperature has been reached, put the iron-cast pot on a lighter fire; on a wood cookstove like here, just drag it on the side, and leave it that way for at least three hours. You can check from time to time if wine hasn't too much evaporated, but on a light fire it should be OK.
How about the wine ? You need an older red wine that has been through a few years of elevage for this type of long-cooked meat (like boeuf bourguignon too). I didn't look far, I had this Chinon Les Roches 2002 in the cellar (you might remember this visit of Domaine Les Roches), an earthy, beautiful Cabernet Franc with cellar notes in mouth, and a bit of reduction which goes well with this meat-dish rusticity. The way I remembered it when I bought it at the estate, it was a good match. And a good match it was. After the dinner was over,I kept coming back to this bottle for more, a pleasure. B. was unsettled by this reduction, which allowed me to enjoy the rest of the bottle without competitor.
A beef tail can make easily three meals for two, meaning three days (dinners), that is thus a very good-value dish that you might try more often, if butchers near where you are sell it. Back to down-to-earth realities : The price per kilogram for this particular tail was 7,6 Euro, putting the whole tail at about 13 Euro.