Meat Recipes

Braised Oxtail Ragu

February 3, 2009


I was in two minds whether to post this. I am rather unhappy with the photograph – the lighting sucks (mainly thanks to me not using my scrim to diffuse light coming through the window), the composition ain’t great either. It put the whole photograph together in a rush. I wanted to eat the ragu, and eat it fast.

But, here it is. I wanted to talk about oxtail a bit, so deal with the photo..

I should say that to me the smell of oxtail braising is quite frankly one of the best aroma’s of winter (course, if 80 degree weather had an aroma – and not BO, that would be better than oxtail in the winter..). There is just something about the warm rich meatiness of the smell that is just perfect on a cold winters day.

So what is Oxtail? Well.. it is as the name implies – the tail of an ox (castrated bull). Or that is what it was traditionally anyhow. These days it refers to the tail of any beef animal. When you buy an oxtail it is generally cut into sections, across the tail, so you end up with 2” tall rounds of oxtail on the bone. These are just perfect for braising.

Oxtail is a reasonably tough, gelatinous cut of meat that really has to be slow cooked to develop the tenderness, but also pull out some of that lovely gelatin to add body to the braising liquid.

I have eaten oxtail countless ways,  normally in some kind of soup – especially back in England.  It can be an acquired taste for some – since it is so rich and meaty tasting, but is one that I just absolutely adore.

It is about now you should stop seeing the tail of a beef as something swatting flies of a messy cow backside, and start seeing it as a pretty darn affordable, very good tasting cut of beef.

The biggest problem is really finding oxtail. My local co-op had some in this week, so I snatched it up. You can also find it reasonably dependably at Asian markets too. Small local, organic meat producers will also be able to get you some really great oxtail, but most likely with a bit of a wait.

This dish is just a really simple braise of the oxtail in a shed load of red wine. The meat gets taken off the bone, cut up, and then simmered a bit longer in the braising liquid. If you were going to be really fancy pants, you could do this over, say, three days, skimming and straining the braising liquid as you go. Depends what you are after really.. Personally I don’t mind some fat in a rustic ragu, and I cannot fathom how I would manage to keep a bowl of braised oxtail for 3 days without eating it. Anyhow, if you fancy a go at that, I have given directions at the end of the recipe below.

So, here it is. Oxtail Ragu. Pretty simple, and really pretty darn tasty. Serve atop your favorite pasta. Personally I like it with something long and skinny, but that is just me.

Braised Oxtail Ragu (serves 2)

1.5lb oxtail – cut into sections, across the tail

1 small onion – finely chopped

1 carrot – finely chopped

1 stalk of celery – finely chopped

1/3 bottle of full bodied red wine

2 bay leaves

5 thyme sprigs

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

filtered water, or really good home-made beef stock

olive oil

parmesan and fresh basil to serve

fettuccine, tagliatelle, spaghetti, or linguine to serve

I recommend doing the following for any oxtail preparation – it helps remove some of the crud from the oxtail before braising – resulting in a cleaner braise: soak the oxtail in cold salted water for about 2 hours. Skim the surface, and gently remove the oxtail. Put into a clean pan, with clean water. Slowly bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, the remove the oxtail and discard the liquid.

Preheat oven to 315F

In a large saute pan, heat up some olive oil over a medium/high heat. When hot, start browning the oxtail pieces. You don’t want to crowd the pan here – do it in two or three batches if you have to. When the oxtail is nicely colored, remove from the pan to a plate.

Add a little more oil to the pan if required a gently cook the onion, carrot and celery until soft. Crank up the heat, and pour in the red wine. Deglaze the pan, scraping around to get any bits off the pan bottom. When the wine has reduced a bit, stir in the tomato paste.

Put the oxtail into a heavy braising dish that has a lid (or you can cover it later with foil). Pour into this the red wine/vegetable mix. Add enough water to get the liquid level about half way up the side of the meat. Tuck the bay leaves and thyme sprigs around the meat. Cover the dish tightly either with a lid, or foil, and bung in the oven for about 3 hours. Check the braise every hour to make sure the liquid level still looks good – add more water if need to keep the level about 1/2 way up the side of the meat.

The meat is done when it is fall apart tender.

Remove the meat from the liquid, and allow to cool slightly. Pull the meat off the bone, and chop. Skim any fat off the top of the braising liquid. In a medium pan, combine the meat and liquid from the braise, discarding the bay and thyme leaves. Cover the pan loosely, and simmer for a further 20 minutes.

Cook the pasta until it still has a little bite.

Toss the pasta with oxtail ragu. Serve with some freshly grated parmesan, and a few sprigs of basil (the basil will just lighten the richness slightly).

So – if you want to go all out, and do a 3 day braise.. here you go. On day one do the braise as above – but when you remove the meat from the liquid, don’t chop it up yet. Put the meat and the liquid in the fridge separately. The next day there should be a slightly hard fat layer on top of the braising liquid. Scrape this off. Take the meat off the oxtail bones, and chop. Mix this into the braising liquid (you might have to slightly heat the liquid to do this, since it will be pretty stiff cold). Return this to the fridge overnight to let the flavors ripen.

About 1 hour before needing to serve, put the ragu in a small pan, and gently bring it up to a simmer. Cover loosely and simmer for about 45 minutes. Check it often to make sure the liquid level is OK. Add a little water or beef stock if it looks a little dry. After about 50 minutes, let it rest for 5 minutes, and toss with your pasta of choice.

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  • elra February 3, 2009 at 6:19 am

    Oh my, this is absolutely delicious ragu. Oxtail sounds like perfect ingredient for it.

  • peter February 3, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Photo, shmoto…we got the gist that this dish is delicious! Look on the bright side…you can make the meal again, re-shoot it and update the post.

  • Ben @ cookingaround February 3, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Nice use of oxtail. I’ve just polished off braised oxtail with parsnip mash, so will post my own variation on a theme momentarily.

    I wouldn’t worry about the picture – looks great and makes mw want to eat the food, which is the main thing!


  • Colloquial Cook February 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    It reminds me that a visitor on my blog landed on my oxtail recipe page by googling “what type of animal does oxtail come from”. It really cracked me up 🙂
    I love the setting and the light, btw, don’t be too hard on yourself 🙂

  • maggie February 3, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    I will have to get me some oxtails!

  • Chocolate Shavings February 3, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, I think the photo looks pretty darn good!
    Tougher pieces of meat that get fork tender as you slowly cook them are definitely the way to go. Your oxtail concoction sounds wonderful for those cold winter days.

  • redmenace February 3, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Matt, this picture is lovely and I like the composition. However, I totally understand your frustration with light. I have that issue a lot. This recipe also looks fantastic. Thanks for the info!

  • mallory elise February 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    that is a beautifully set up photo~

  • Anticiplate February 3, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    I think this photo looks great as well! AND, I think you should make a separate dish to photograph AFTER you eat. I know you might not have enough, but make a little extra. It doesn’t stress you so much:)

  • Alex February 3, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Sounds incredible. Is that a Riedel ‘O’ glass I spy in the background there, by any chance?

  • mattwright February 3, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    elra – I love oxtail 😀
    peter – what a wonderful idea!!!!!
    ben – thanks mate. Oxtail with parsnip mash sounds great, I will wait patiently for your blog post.
    CC – I love the stats that show how people ended up on my blog, makes for some entertaining reading!
    Maggie – go do it!!
    CS – thanks for the kind words about the photo. I will take a slow braise with flavor over a fat-less quick cook cut anyday
    redmenace – I shouldn’t have been so lazy.. I should have got the scrim out… I am kicking myself now
    Mallory – thankyou!
    Anticiplate – cost is certainly one thing, but so is timing. You have such a small window of time to get food photographed at it still look fresh and inviting. If I waited till after the meal, the food would look flat and lifeless
    Alex – It is a rip-off Riedel that I got from a cheap outlet place here! Love them though I have to say.

  • Chuck February 3, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Hey Matt, love the dish. I was surprised to read that you didn’t really care for the photo. When I first saw it I thought ” Very Nice ” I think the photo is better then most I see lol.

    I haven’t had oxtails in a very long time. It’s one of those thing I never think of having. But, looking at your dish I think I’ll give it a try.

  • Susan February 4, 2009 at 3:51 am

    I just discovered your website last night and I am so very impressed with your photography. It’s a beautiful blog!

  • brilynn February 4, 2009 at 4:30 am

    I just made oxtail for the first time this past week, it was amazing! Now I need to make it again and give your recipe a try…

  • Alwaysroom4dessert February 4, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Great blog! Your ragu looks delicious

  • Lang February 4, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Love the oxtail ragu! Had a similar ragu at Spinasse the other night and realized I hadn’t made one all winter. Might add some pulverized porcini. BTW, Columbia City butcher has oxtails.

  • Kairu February 4, 2009 at 7:56 am

    I think it looks great, even without the scrim! Controlling light for food photography is the biggest pain, and I have the washed-out-and-over-exposed or blurred-dark-low-light pictures to back me up. More often than not when I do get an excellent shot it is pure luck.

    I’ve been trying not to eat meat lately (long story), but I could go for some braised oxtails right about now. I like to cook them in Guinness, and serve over mashed potatoes or pappardelle (or some other wide noodle), but that’s just me.

  • Nazarina A February 4, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Please do not “diss” ( ha! ha! I hope that is how you spell that word),
    the picture, on the contrary I like it. I have never tried oxtail before. I would love to try your delicious take on it!!!

  • mattwright February 4, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Chuck – thanks mate! It had been a while for me too
    Susan – thank you too!
    Brilynn – you can never get too much oxtail!
    Always – thanks!
    Lang – Great idea of adding the porcini, they would go great in here. I still have to give Spinasse a go. I will have to check out the butchers down in CC.
    Kairu – Ditto – I have tried being off meat for a bit (since meat party..) but it keeps coming back to haunt me!
    Nazarina – Give it a go, it is really robust, and very tasty (any prep of oxtail that is)

  • Heather February 4, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    For what it’s worth, I think it’s a nice photo. In fact, now I have something of a complex about the quality of my own photos (err… more than I already did).

    I love oxtails too. And after you shred the meat off you can throw them in the stock pot to glean all of the lovely unctuous gelatin from them. Mmmm…

  • Y February 4, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Yum! That looks and sounds delicious. My favourite Heinz soup used to be oxtail. Mom would add meatballs to it, and in this little kid’s eyes, it was the best thing ever! 🙂

  • Food Woolf February 5, 2009 at 1:57 am

    Hate to break it to you mate, but that ain’t a bad photograph! Thanks for educating us on Oxtail and giving us all such a great recipe! Can’t wait to try it!

  • rachel February 5, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Fine braise, great post.
    I only really discovered the joys of oxtail when I moved to Rome – the Romans excel at something very like this the deep, dark, robust coda alla vaccinara (oxtail vaccinara style) you need an afternoon nap after a plateful in a Roman trattoria.
    I like the photo even though i wish you hadn’t put the basil and parmesan shavings on top – it is honest and handsome enough without them and I wonder if they added to the taste of this fine looking plateful ?

  • Lang February 5, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Matt – Did you get a chance to try the oxtail gnocchi that was so celebrated at Quinn’s? Heavenly. Sad to say it’s off the menu now. Rachel above is right about the deep, dark qualities. Good for the soul.

  • Yakbudder February 5, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Your blog is a great find. I lived in the UK for years and, despite its much maligned cuisine, I associate English food with comfort and cheer. Thanks for translating that to the NW. I also happen to live on Vashon and love it as you did. Am glad you found Sea Breeze Farm.
    I originally came to your site searching for a Seattle source for fresh mackerel. Haven’t found it yet. Not at Uwajimaya. Is it the wrong season?

  • mattwright February 5, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Lang – Never been to Quinn’s.. the curse of having a two year old!! (the only curse really..)
    Yakbudder – Fresh Mackerel can be tough to find in Seattle. Mutual fish has had some every now and again, but most is frozen. In my opinion mackerel doesn’t freeze too badly because it is so fatty – but fresh is certainly better. I know that the season for Atlantic mackerel is through the summer, I am not crazy sure about Pacific mackerel – seems like they are fished somewhat year-round, with the focus being late summer – from what I can find online.
    I would give Mutual Fish a call, and ask them – they would know.

  • White On Rice Couple February 6, 2009 at 4:42 am

    Hey, we’ve been eating lots of the same stuff lately: rillette and oxtail! Your stew looks mighty awesome and your picture looks kick ass Matt! Pretty awesome stuff for the cold weather! Seriously, the photo is scrumptious enough to make our stomach’s growl!

  • Takeaways February 6, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Interesting idea, I don’t think I’ve ever seen oxtail presented in such a way. Like you mentioned, I’ve always found it in soups and not even sure if it is my favourite. Definitely an acquired taste.

    But a cook should always keep an open mind so I will have to give this a try soon. Thanks for the recipe!

  • we are never full February 6, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    oxtail is a fave of ours and we’re lucky to live ina place where it’s more than readily available. it’s almost become a “trendy” cut at this point here and now, instead of being it’s normal $1.99 a pound, it’s about $5 a pound now. so it’s no longer a good peasant meal!

    and you’re clearly a professional photographer – that picture looks pretty beautiful to me!

  • drfugawe February 7, 2009 at 12:51 am

    Always left with mixed emotions when I visit a beautiful blog and have to listen to its creator moan about how poor the photos are – get real, man – want to see true nastiness in photography? Check the above.

  • Melissa February 9, 2009 at 5:36 am

    Mmm, that sounds amazing! I’ve only ever had oxtail as a stew, but I absolutely love the idea of putting it over pasta. And the smell, I’m getting hungry just imagining it!

    p.s. I too think the photo is beautiful – for heaven’s sake, stop beating yourself up!

  • Giff February 9, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    mmm you remind me that I have some oxtail in the freezer, and this is the perfect use. Love it. And I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder + we are our own toughest critics, but like many here I loved the photo. Yes, I can see what you mean re: lighting and shadow, but I thought it made the shot interesting. 🙂 Now I’m hungry. It’s 7 in the morning, and I’m hungry for oxtail ragu and a glass of red. Time for foodies anonymous.

  • Judy February 11, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Can’t wait to make this. My only hitch is finding “happy” oxtails! Looks like a great recipe and wish it was dinner!

  • Laurie Constantino February 12, 2009 at 2:11 am

    Ha! I just did an oxtail piece that I almost didn’t post because I hated the picture so much. Your photo is far superior to mine, thats for sure. There’s really no better winter food than oxtail for all the reasons you say. I used my leftovers for ravioli filling – so good!

  • julie February 12, 2009 at 3:06 am

    Oxtails are my favorite food in the whole wide world. Yes oxtails… no it’s duck rillette… no it’s bresaola… oh man Matt, every time I visit your blog I have a new favorite food!

  • Paul May 3, 2009 at 1:39 pm


    Good job! I am a chef and I am doing braised oxtails in a sun dried tomato pesto for a contest. I was searching the web for ideas. The only way I had oxtails as a kid was when mom made oxtail soup. I used to love the flavor. I also had them several years ago in a Jamacain joint that were fantastic. They are quite expensive here in the states. But I did manage to get a hold of some and I am going to enter the recipe for the contest. I can use the $1000 for sure! Thanks for blogging bro. (Pic is fine too!)

  • Nic October 1, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    You’ve just helped me decide what to have for dinner! This looks awesome and I just happen to have a pack of ox tails in the freezer waiting to be eaten before it gets too hot to slow cook! Thanks Matt!

  • graZOR October 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Another traditional cheap cut that is becoming expensive. Its a favourite in the west-indian community, so grew up eating this dish and fully agree with Matt on the smell of oxtail braising; but I think that’s true of most meats braising in the oven in winter (short ribs in particular). Luckily I have great access to fresh oxtail (including my local T&T supermarket) though my family refuses to eat it.

    Matt you pik looks great. i think the quality and standard of some of the others in your album is so high, that it might not be as good; still, I am impressed.


  • Christne & Glenn November 1, 2010 at 12:53 am

    We decided to try this recipe, we f0llowed it exactly however it took more then 3 hrs too cook & there was next to no liquid to form the sauce