A couple of things to know right off: My husband is from the Bahamas. We eat oxtails as often as we can find them. Because he is from the Bahamas there has been only one way to prepare them: the way his Mama does. Until now.
Preparing oxtails is usually a half-day process. To get the most flavor from them and to ensure they are as tender as they can be, they need to cook for some four to five hours until they are practically falling off the bone. The results make for some of the most warming and delicious comfort food ever--it makes "you wanna slap your mama" as my husband says.
Enter Mario Batali. I've eaten his pasta sauce, watch Molto Mario from time to time and have cooked several of his recipes when they've appeared in food magazines. So I took some of my Christmas money and purchased his Molto Italiano cookbook. Flipping through it I was pleasantly surprised to see a recipe for oxtails.
I remember that not too long ago, oxtails were fairly inexpensive. But as has been noted on Sylvie's blog the price has gone up as it takes its place on fancy restaurant menus. Batali says it has reverse snob appeal. Hmm. I don't know how much he would charge for this dish at Babbo but with the time it takes to prepare and the effort to remove the meat from the bone before serving--they can't be cheap. I guess all that bone-chewing is best left to the privacy of one's own home.
Knowing that the Caribbean doesn't have a lock on this delectable meat I figured I'd give Mario's version a try. But knowing how discerning my Caribbean husband could be I made a few adjustments--bacon instead of pancetta, more red onion, freshly ground cinnamon, and more than a pinch of red pepper flakes.
The results were nothing short of phenomenal. Preparing the oxtails in what amounts to half the liquid I usually use, cooking them half as long, and taking them off to bone to plate them made for an oxtail meat sauce with an incredble intensity of flavor. The topping of crisp jullienned bell peppers, red onions and parsley--in a lemon viniagrette--was just the right flavor and texture contrast. In fact, because I used Meyer lemons (the only ones I had on hand) there was even a slightly sweet taste to compliment the meat.
In short--we have been converted. Of couse we'll still make them Caribbean style from time to time but it's nice to have a fabulous alternative.
Oxtail Butcher's Style (as adapted from Molto Italiano)
- 2-3 pounds Oxtails, cut into 1/2 pound chunks (by the butcher) and rinsed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 slices of applewood smoked bacon
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1 large clove garlic
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3 ribs celery, leaves reserved, stalks finely chopped
- 1/4 cup red bell pepper, julienne
- 1/4 cup red onion, sliced thin
- Pinch (or more) of hot red pepper flakes
- Pinch of ground cinnamon
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the oxtails, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for ten minutes. Drain the oxtails, reserving 3 cups of the broth and set the reserved broth and oxtails aside. Dissolve the tomato paste in the reserved broth and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the bacon and saute until beginning to brown and crisp. Add the oxtails and brown on all sides, then transfer to a plate.
Add the chopped onions, garlic, carrots, and half the parsley to the pot and saute until the vegetables are browned--scraping up the bacon bits as you do so. Return the oxtails to the pot, add the wine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the wine is reduced by half.
Pour the tomato paste-broth mixture over the meat--the meat will not be covered and this is okay. Cover and simmer for two hours. Add the chopped celery, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer the oxtails to a platter to cool. Set the pot aside.
Carefully and thoroughly remove the meat from the bones--this takes a little time and effort but it makes the dish. Stir the meat into the sauce and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the celery leaves, the remaining parsley, the red pepper, red onion slices, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon together. Toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.
Arrange the meat in mounds on top of tagliatelle or fettucine pasta. Divide the celery mixture evenly over the meat and serve immediately. Serves 3-4 as a main course.
Note: This dish went perfectly with a glass of Earthworks 2003 Shiraz.