Last weekend when I was home-bound in the epic rainstorm, watching the leak in our ceiling grow, it seemed only right to pop out to the butcher, buy a whole oxtail, and cook it into slow submission.
Oxtail (which is actually just the tail of either gender of cattle) is an ideal meat for braising: its flavor emerges triumphantly with a long, slow cook, with each piece's hunk of marrow only helping things along. It used to be dirt cheap, and now it's just kind of cheap, but it is still a great choices for a meaty sauce when you're in the mood to try something different.
Couple of notes on the recipe: this is a braise, so you don't need to be exact with measurements or ingredients. For a basic ragù you do need the tomatoes and the support vegetables (carrot, onion, celery if possible) but in terms of spices, listen to what you crave. I love nutmeg but if it's not your thing, take it out. If you like a little heat, add a pinch of dried red pepper flakes. As for how to serve this, I made gnocchi (yep, from scratch, the storm was pretty bad!) but any noodle that can handle the weight of a hearty sauce will do.
I know that for many of us the weather just turned and we're expecting a brilliant couple of days to come, but don't abandon your fantasies of rich, deep sauces just yet. Even with the sun shining bright on your pasty winter skin, you know you want a taste of this.
1 whole oxtail (4-5 pounds), cut into 3-inch pieces Salt and freshly ground black pepper Flour, for dredging 1/4 cup olive oil 1 onion, chopped 1 carrot, chopped 3 celery ribs, chopped 1 (28 ounce) can plum tomatoes, crushed 3 cups dry red wine 2 rosemary sprigs 2 thyme sprigs 2 bay leaves 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Pat the meat dry with a paper towel then dust with the flour, tapping off any excess. Season the oxtail with salt and pepper on all sides.
Place a 6 quart Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed ovenproof pan (just large enough to hold all the meat) with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the oil and when glistening, add the meat (metal tongs come in handy here) and brown on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Work in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding.
Transfer meat to a plate. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes with juices, wine, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, garlic and nutmeg. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes then lower heat and add meat. Add enough water to just barely cover meat. Return to boil then cover and transfer to oven. Cook for 3 to 4 hours, until the meat is fork tender and falling off the bones.
Remove from the oven and transfer pieces of meat to a plate. Skim any visible fat from the surface of the sauce. Pick the meat from the bones, pulling away and discarding any pieces of fat, and return the meat to the pan. Pluck out the bay leaves, and sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Serve atop any pasta meant to withstand a big sauce (not angel hair), or slathered in a lasagna.
The ragù can be made a few days ahead, covered and refrigerated.
If you were following me on Twitter, you would have been able to vote on whether or not I should include that photo of the uncooked oxtail
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