oxtail ragu

Oxtail is one of those 'poorer cuts' of beef that seems to be more readily available in supermarkets and at a much higher price than it once was.  I like to buy it when the local market butcher has them in, making it more of a special occasion dish.   Leave the cheekmeat for pies and the marrow bones for risotto, oxtail (coda di bue) makes a spectacularly unctuous and hearty ragu - perfect for warming you up after a brisk autumn day cleaning up the garden or after a skate in the backyard rink.    

We like it on more substantial pastas, homemade cavatelli or gnocchi but, like all our other favourite sauces, it appears most frequently on homemade filej.  I've also used it in lasagna and, of course, oxtail is very much at home on soft polenta.

Ragu coda di bue on homemade filej
Recipes for 'Coda di bue in umido' vary little from one region to the next and that is the beauty about this sauce - it's simple to put together and can be customized to taste.  And, like most long simmered sauces, most of the process is spent in anticipation.  You can use that time to pick out a wine.  I would be tempted with one of my Piemontese favourites, Dolcetto di Dogliani.  However, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo would be textbook for tannin and cleansing acidity to balance this rich meat dish. Sample a glass just to make sure.  

Sear the seasoned oxtail in a cast iron skillet (transferring to a dutch oven or clay pot with lid) or in a large stew pot.  Any of the trendy glazed cast iron braisers are perfect.  Just make sure not to crowd the meat - brown in batches if necessary.  Throw in some garlic and a bit of onion toward the end of cooking to soften and take on a little colour. 

At this point, I also add a sprig of rosemary, a pinch of chilli flakes and sometimes a bay leaf, along with some finely chopped carrot and celery. While the veggies are typical here, I've taken to hiding a bit of veg in lots of dishes these days -  they cook down in this sauce and are virtual unrecognizable.  Still, nothing rounds out the flavour of a meaty tomato sauce like sweet garden fresh carrots and savoury celery.  Thanks to the mild autumn we had, the season was great for both. 

Then, in goes a little vino, a spoonful of tomato paste and finally tomato sauce or peeled whole tomatoes (and their juices) just to cover the meat.  A little extra water to make sure there's enough liquid so it doesn't dry our as it cooks over the next few hours either on the stovetop on simmer/very low or in a 180C/300F oven.  Keep the lid on.  Meat will be meltingly tender and sauce will tighten up so save some of your pasta water to adjust the final sauce texture to your liking.  You can then shred the meat with a fork to distribute it in the sauce or reserve any large remaining chunks to serve after with salad.

After a few hours, cook your pasta.  Spoon a little sauce into the serving bowl and follow with drained pasta and mix with additional sauce to coat.




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