Chef Govind Armstrong on the Strangest Things He’s Ever Grilled, Including Beaver Tail

Plus: An oxtail recipe for the ambitious home chef

November 3, 2023 6:25 am
Chef Govind Armstrong
Chef Govind Armstrong [top] teaching at Alisal Ranch's BBQ Bootcamp.
Courtesy of Alisal Ranch

When I ask chef Govind Armstrong about the strangest things he’s ever grilled, he doesn’t miss a beat: Brazilian mollusks, grubs from the Amazon and beaver tail. “In Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost part of Argentina near Antarctica, we had beaver tail,” Armstrong tells InsideHook. “It was wild, and it was really good and gamey. We spent the whole day dogsledding, then grilled it and made tartare with it as well. It was firm and strangely light, too.” 

Right before our interview, Armstrong had just finished giving a demonstration at Alisal Ranch’s annual BBQ Bootcamp, where his lesson covered both an authentic jerk chicken recipe and one for grilled oxtail — both much more palatable for American diners than beaver tail. As one of the most lauded chefs in Los Angeles, known for training from a young age under greats like Wolfgang Puck and Nancy Silverton, Armstrong put the Baldwin Hills institution Post & Beam on the map, and now focuses on seafood at his current gig at The Lobster, where he currently serves as executive chef and director of operations. 

But his fascination with global cuisine stems from an upbringing that spanned Los Angeles and Costa Rica, and Caribbean influences remain a part of his style to this day. “In Costa Rica, grilling is more of a social thing, which is what I love,” he says. “We just hang out, eat, drink, sing, dance — everything. That’s all part of cooking and feeding us.” In a lot of ways, that’s also part of what drew him to return to Alisal for the fifth time as a guest chef, helping teach eager participants that grilling is more accessible than it might seem.

“This is my second BBQ Bootcamp, and I’ve done other pop-ups here, which has been really fun,” he says. “The people are fantastic and they love eating and drinking — my kind of people. It’s always a great group of interesting folks who want to learn. I think opening people’s eyes to different techniques and different cuts of meat is important. The more people I can expose these things to, or just give them a taste of something different, the better.” 

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As a chef, spending time in places like Argentina, where grilling is practically a way of life, and Brazil — where he encountered yet another strange creature to grill — is a part of enhancing his own approach. “I cooked and grilled this strange mollusk in Brazil,” he remembers. “It’s a mollusk called turu — you pull it out of decaying evergreen trees that are decomposing under water in the swamps. They’re long and gnarly, and the locals I was with were eating them raw. We grilled them, and they tasted sweet and delicious like mussels, not rubbery at all.” 

For his final entry in the strangest grilling game, another visit to South America yielded up an insect for dinner. “I grilled suri grubs in the Amazon,” he says. “They’re in the aguaje tree. That was really good — very, very creamy and very rich. They reminded me of sweetbreads.” Since most Americans will never be convinced to eat swamp mollusks, beaver tartare or the bugs that kept Timon and Pumbaa alive in The Lion King, Armstrong agreed to share his recipe for grilled oxtail instead. 

Oxtail is still a rare cut compared to a run-of-the-mill steak or burger, but just as decadent and satisfying. “Oxtail is a unique cut that you don’t really see grilled too much,” he says. “The only way I’ve had success with it is to do a dry rub, smoke it, braise it and then still try to get that one last layer of flavor on it on the grill. Normally, I grill it on a bed of curry leaves that you roll it back and forth in, and it kind of chars. Even the charred curry leaves have such a unique flavor that they marry well with the dry rub.” 

Check out his recipe below, and keep in mind: this is not an entry-level recipe. You can always head to Post & Beam to order an oxtail sandwich if you’d rather leave it to the experts.

Chef Govind Armstrong’s Grilled Oxtail 

Servings: 3 oxtails

  • For the Oxtail Dry Rub Spice Blend:
  • 2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp. jerk seasoning
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp. ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp. turmeric
  • 4 tbsp. curry powder
  • 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. sumac
  • 2 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. allspice
  • For the Curried Oxtail and Charred Curry Leaves:
  • 3 whole oxtails, untrimmed
  • Oxtail Dry Rub Spice Blend (ingredients above)
  • ½ lb. fresh curry leaves
  • 1.5 qt. roasted chicken stock
  • Smoke
    1. Generously rub the oxtails with the dry rub spice blend and allow to sit for two days.

    2. Pull oxtails out to room temperature two hours prior to cooking. 

    3. Preheat hardwood smoker to 250 degrees. Using half the curry leaves, line the bed of the smoker and place oxtails on the leaves. 

    4. Smoke for a minimum of six hours. 

  • Braise
    1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. 

    2. In a small sauce pot, heat the chicken stock, then transfer it to a large, three-inch deep roasting pan and place the oxtails in the pan. 

    3. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and then tightly cover with aluminum foil. 

    4. Braise the oxtail for four hours, then remove the plastic and foil wrap and return the pan to the oven. 

    5. Cook for an additional hour, basting the tails every 10 minutes. 

    6. Remove the oxtail from the oven, continue to baste and allow to cool in its own juices for one hour. 

    7. Preheat the grill to medium high heat. 

    8. Carefully remove the tails and transfer them to a cutting board, trimming off as much fat as you would like. 

    9. Strain braising juices, skim off the fat and reduce to half.

  • Grill
    1. Place the remaining curry leaves on the grill and place the oxtails on the leaves, gently charring the leaves while rolling the tails (do not allow the leaves to flame up). 

    2. Grill until the tails are slightly charred and caramelized. 

    3. Transfer them back to the cutting board. 

    4. Cut into the natural sections and return to the reduced braising jus.

    5. Serve with rice and peas, plantains and more charred curry leaves. Enjoy!


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