Along with Pickled Pigs Feet, Braised Oxtail has to be at the top of the “Use Every Part of the Animal Or Else” list. A waste not-want not staple food in many European cultures for generations, oxtail recipes were refined over time into the rich delicacy we know today, still served with the bone intact to remind us of its humble beginning.
- Onion, garlic, tomato and processed pork are classic ingredients included in braised oxtail recipes. Beyond that cooks improvise with vegetables, a particular sausage, herb or spice. This recipe adds sliced bell peppers.
- Using the juice of canned tomato and wine for the braising liquid helps produce a complex, interesting sauce, but what is important is the liquid, so adding extra stock also works if the liquid reduces too much. I prefer to brown and then precook oxtails in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes and finish them in the oven for 45 minutes. It saves 2+ hours and produces as tender and succulent a result as traditional braising does.
- Braising, or cooking slowly in liquid tenderizes otherwise tough cuts of poultry or meat (I’d say the tail of an ox qualifies) and creates flavorful sauces that invite sides of starch like mashed potato, polenta, pasta, rice or bread to absorb the sauce and keep eaters from licking their plates. Left over, the sauce and whatever was braised in it can become tomorrow’s wonderful soup or ragu, so buying a couple of extra oxtail pieces is well worth it.
- Grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley mixed into polenta add flavor and color. A little extra leftover polenta will thicken the next day’s soup. Yum.
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3-4# oxtail in chunks about 3″ in diameter (6 large chunks for 4 people)
4 slices thick-sliced bacon or 3 oz. pancetta, cut into 1/2″ strips
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bulb fresh fennel with stems and leaves
5 or 6 stems of fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
2 red bell peppers, stems, seeds and pith removed
1, 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup homemade or low salt beef stock
2 tbs. lemon juice
2 tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. anchovy paste or 2 tbs. Fish Sauce
1 cup red wine
2 tbs. ground fennel
A few drops of Chinese chili paste or 1/4 tsp. dehydrated red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper to taste
3 cups cold water
3/4 cup uncooked polenta or coarse ground cornmeal
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- Heat olive oil in a braising pan*. Brown oxtail pieces on both sides and set aside.
- Turn down the heat, add the bacon or pancetta and cook until the fat is opaque and slightly browned but the meat is still soft. Put aside with the oxtails.
- Lower the heat and add chopped carrot, onion and garlic to the braising pan. When the onions are translucent, add the uncut fennel stems (the bulb will go in later), half of the chopped parsley, red wine, beef stock and canned tomato. Cook over medium low heat until the liquid is reduced by about one fourth.
- Put the precooked oxtails and bacon or pancetta, canned tomato, lemon juice, tomato paste, anchovy paste, red wine, ground fennel and chili paste in pan. Cover and cook in the oven or on the stove top at a steady low simmer for 2 hours, checking the liquid occasionally to make sure it isn’t evaporating too much. You will need a cup of juice and vegetables for each serving. If there is not enough juice, add stock or white wine.
- While the meat braises, slice the bell peppers and fennel bulb into thin strips and set aside.
- When the meat is tender enough to pierce with a knife but not quite tender enough to be done, remove the fennel stems and add the sliced peppers and fennel. Taste the juice and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Replace the cover and cook until the meat is very tender but not falling off the bone, about 30 minutes.
- Polenta: Put water in a saucepan and stir in the polenta. Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn it down to a low but steady simmer, stirring often to prevent sticking. Cook the polenta until it is thick. Remove the pan from the heat and cover it. Chop the remaining parsley and stir half of it and the cheese into the polenta. Cover the pan again and keep it off heat until you are ready to serve the oxtails.
- To Serve. Put a generous serving of polenta on each plate or pasta bowl. Press a shallow indention in the centers of the polenta mounds and ladle a little sauce over the polenta. Using tongs or a large serving spoon, transfer the oxtails onto the polenta mounds. Ladle more sauce including vegetables over each serving. Garnish with remaining parsley and serve immediately.
*Dutch ovens are classic braising pans. A heavy fry pan deep enough to hold the oxtail, vegetables and liquid and not boil over when covered with a lid or foil works.