Okay, when does it start to get obnoxious with my foreign language recipe titles. But I feel like this one is warranted, as it’s supposedly some sort of time-honored Roman stew. In case you’re wondering and haven’t translate-widgeted it yet, it’s oxtail. My first time making something with an oxtail! I’d seen it fresh before at my little meat market that I go to to get my kitties’ food, but didn’t have anything in mind for it at the time. So I went back this past weekend to get it – never a good idea there, because their stock of odd bits is seemingly unpredictable – but only found it in the freezer. No big deal, except I was a little impatient in letting it defrost fully before starting this recipe. Hey, I’ve got limited daylight hours to get some somewhat decent pictures. The stinkin’ oxtails defrosted quick enough in the pot.
Oxtail is a strange cut of meat. It’s mostly bone and some weird collagen, but it becomes super wonderful and fun to eat after simmering for hours. The end of the tail was my most favorite. The texture is hard to describe, but the bit of collagenmeat on them was delicious, and since the pieces are small you can pick them up with your fingers and they don’t go flying across the table, like some of the larger pieces did a couple times. Whether you try to use just your hands or a fork, those larger pieces are a little unwieldy no matter what.
The oxtails I bought weren’t trimmed, which gave me a bit of a hard time (because, you know I hadn’t totally defrosted them), but I got a ton of fat chunks that I made tallow with. I currently have jars of schmaltz, lard, lard from those carnitas, bacon grease, and now tallow in my kitchen. I need a few more birds and then I’ll feel so complete! Ultimately, though, my oxtail pieces were still a little too fatty and I’ll definitely make more of an effort to trim them better next time. The recipe I used said to have whole ribs of celery. I liked this idea – it sounded real rustic, but the celery ended up being incredibly hard to eat and kind of embarrassing when I was trying to eat it for lunch at work and the ribs just balled up in my mouth because I couldn’t saw through the strings with my teeth. Maybe I needed to stew them for longer? Or maybe avoid that altogether and cut them into manageable pieces?
coda alla vaccinara
adapted from Saveur, serves about 6
4 lbs. 2 1/2″ oxtail pieces, trimmed of most fat around the outsides
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta or guanciale, minced
6 celery ribs (5 whole, 1 minced)
5 whole cloves
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, minced
1 small white onion, minced
1 dried bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1⁄4 cups red wine, such as chianti
1 28-ounce can of whole peeled plum tomatoes,preferably San Marzano, undrained and crushed by hand
1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more to taste
1. Season oxtails with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the oxtails and cook, turning once, until browned, 8–10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.
2. Put pancetta, minced celery, cloves, garlic, carrots, onions, and bay leaf into the Dutch oven and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 5–6 minutes.
3. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.
4. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cook until mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes.
5. Add the oxtails, the hand-crushed tomatoes, and 1 1⁄2 cups water. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 2 hours.
6. Add whole celery (or the chopped celery) and cook over medium heat, uncovered, until celery is tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in cinnamon and season with salt and pepper.
Skim some of the pools of fat from the top (this will be easier after you’ve refrigerated the leftovers). Serve oxtails with sauce on top and the celery ribs or pieces. Don’t be afraid to get messy eating this!