It's the start of a New Year and for my first recipe I am going to ask all my vegetarian friends to look away now, as I share with you my very favorite cut of meat.
Oxtail is the most unctuous and flavoursome cut of beef, my personal favorite and still inexpensive enough, despite the popularity of it on the menus of many prestigious restaurants. When you buy an oxtail it is generally cut into sections, across the tail, in rounds of oxtail on the bone. These are just perfect for casseroles or braising. Oxtail is a tough, gelatinous cut of meat that really has to be slow cooked to tenderise, but also to extract that lovely gelatin which adds body to the stewing liquid. The oxtails are fatty, so are really best cooked a day ahead, so they can chill overnight and have the fat removed from the top the next day.
You can of course serve the oxtails with the bone-in, but because the meat is so easily removed from the bone I always think it better to do just that before dishing up, as it really doesn't take long at all.
There are many ways of cooking oxtail, and while I don't think I can pick a favorite, this recipe makes for a robust and rich pasta dish. Warm crusty bread is all that is needed as an accompaniment to mop up the last of this most delicious ragu. As with all 'Slow Cooking' you will need a low to moderate heat in your oven - I cook this in the lower oven of the range which is about 120C for at least 3 hours, times and heats being approximate.
1.5lb oxtail – cut into sections
1 small onion – finely chopped
1 carrot – finely chopped
1 stalk of celery – finely chopped
2 - 3 glasses of red wine
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
Your choice of pasta (I like a wide papardelle with this) with parmesan and fresh basil to serve.
In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil. When hot, start browning the oxtail pieces. Don’t overload the pan – do it in two batches if you must. When the oxtail is nicely colored, remove from the pan to a plate.
Add a little more oil to the pan, if required, and gently cook the onion, carrot and celery until soft, then pour in the red wine. Deglaze the pan, scraping around to get the tasty bits off the bottom. When the wine has reduced a bit, stir in the tomato paste and transfer to your casserole dish. Add in the browned oxtail and tuck in the herbs.
Put the oxtail into a heavy casserole dish that has a well-fitting lid. Pour in the red wine, stock and vegetables. Add enough water to get the liquid level about half way up the side of the meat if necessary, keeping it topped up with water during the cooking to this level if needed. Cover the dish tightly either with a lid, or foil, and place in the oven for about 4 hours until the meat is falling off the bone.
Remove the meat from the sauce and when cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bone, and chop. Skim any fat from 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.