I’ll get right to the point. This dish is a keeper–heartwarming, rich and flavorful. The beef melts in your mouth; the sauce is thick, bright from tomatoes, hearty from the celery and carrots and possesses a depth of flavor from the addition of white wine. You can have this with pasta or rice, but the simplest way to enjoy it is with thick slices of country bread. You won’t want a drop of the stew to go to waste.
The kicker? I used oxtail for this dish. Yes, offal. Yes, unappealing to some, though I would venture to say that no matter your ethnic background, you’ve got some oxtail-eating relatives in your family tree. I do. It’s not uncommon. In fact I grew up eating oxtail in a peanut-based stew (kare-kare).
Offal is a reject body part–at least in Western mainstream cooking. The term is associated with the less
desirable popular brains, intestines, liver, gizzards–just to name a few. Because I’ve eaten the aforementioned before (except for brains), I feel somewhat qualified to say that oxtail almost doesn’t belong in this classification. Apart from the fact that this offal comes from the tail of cattle, oxtail is not weird at all…right?
Oxtail has a high bone-to-meat ratio and it’s also cartilaginous. But this is what makes it ideal for braises or stews. Slow cooking imparts a lot of flavor to the final product. And you’re not eating anything odd at all–it’s meat–just from the a tail. Besides, we’re of the Andrew Zimmern generation–nothing is too weird anymore. This is a different food culture; we’re going back to basics. Offal equals good eats.
Coda alla Vaccinara is a traditional Roman dish. The vaccinari were the cattle butchers who turned an unwanted part of the cattle into a humble but delicious stew. There are many variations–some include cloves, nutmeg, or cinnamon. I used a very simple recipe from Marcella Hazan which showcased the rich flavor of braised oxtail and the sweetness of the vegetables. It tasted wonderful on the first night and even better on the second. Allowing the stew to cool before eating it also will give you a chance to skim the fat that rises to the surface to make this a more fat-friendly dish. I didn’t even bother for I couldn’t stand to lose any of the flavor.
So channel your inner Roman (or Andrew Zimmern) and give offal a chance. Oxtail won’t disappoint you.
Coda alla Vaccinara (Roman Braised Oxtail)
From: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 2/3 cup diced onions (I used half an onion)
- 2/3 cup diced carrots (I used a whole carrot)
- 2 1/2 pounds oxtail (severed at each joint)
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- 1/2 cup diced plum tomatoes (I used a whole 14 oz can)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups chopped celery
For the Soffritto: In a sauté pan or enameled dutch oven, sauté the garlic, onion, parsley, carrots in olive oil over medium heat. This will take about 1o minutes; stir frequently to prevent any burning.
To braise: Move the soffritto to the sides of the pan, increase heat to medium high and add the oxtail pieces. Brown the oxtail on all sides; this will take about 5-7 minutes.
Add the wine and simmer for a minute. Add the tomatoes and 1 cup water. The oxtail should be half-immersed in the liquid at this point. Season with salt and pepper (I also added no-salt seasoning for more flavor). Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer, covered for 1 1/2 hours.
Note: At this point, I wasn’t sure that my meat would be tender enough. I feared that the pan I used was too big. I transferred to a smaller pan at the 1 1/2 hour mark (so the meat would be almost fully immersed in liquid) and added the celery. I simmered for another 45 minutes. By this time, the meat was fall-apart tender. Serve with your carb of choice and enjoy!