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
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.