Sunday, 15 June 2014

Slow Braised Oxtail Ragù with Fresh Pappardelle




Oxtail is probably the most over-looked cut of beef. Which is just how I like it, because that keeps the price down. You do need to slow cook it, but the result is an incredibly rich, sticky, tender meat with fat that melts in the mouth like only the best steaks. Drool-inducingly good.

Now, as a heads-up I should say that this meal takes 5-6 hours to prepare. The vast majority of that is just cooking time, with little-to-no input required. But that doesn’t sound very impressive, so let’s put the ridiculous back in this blog and use some of that time to make our own fresh pasta from scratch.

What? You got something better to do? (Spoiler, you don’t. This is one of tastiest things you’ll ever put in your mouth)


I’ll be the judge of that. Recipe me.


    Season your chunks of oxtail and fry them in olive oil, browning on all sides. Take them out of the pan. Now fry super finely chopped celery and leek, until soft. Add sliced mushrooms, chopped herbs and whole bay leaves, again frying until nicely soft.

    Stir in a spoon of flour. Chop up a bunch of tomatoes and add to the pan along with fresh orange juice, some soy sauce, vinegar, a little sugar and a load of red wine. Add back in the oxtail. Bring to a simmer. Put the whole thing in a medium-low oven and stir once an hour for 5 hours. Or don’t, no big deal.

    An hour before the sauce is done, sieve flour onto your table. Crack a couple of eggs onto it and mix until you’ve got a big, not-sticky ball. Nobody likes sticky balls. Knead it until it’s a smooth ball. Everybody loves smooth balls. Wrap it in cling film and leave it until the sauce is done.

    When the 5 hours are up, take the dish out of the oven. Scatter a little flour on the table and cut your dough in half. Roll out one half, as thin as you can. Then roll it thinner. Cut it into strips about 2cm wide. Meet pappardelle, tagliatelle’s big fat papa. Now do the same with the other half.

    Throw the pasta into a big pot of boiling, salted water. While that’s cooking, strip the meat off the bones in your sauce. Now suck on them. Go ahead, don’t be nervous. Thaaaat’s it. Or you can just throw them away. When your pasta’s cooked, drain and serve. Mix in some of the sauce and top with parmesan.


Haha, very funny. Now how about a real recipe, Chuckles?


Right you are.

Ingredients


For the Ragu
  • 1 Oxtail, chunked (approx 1.5kg)
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 leek
  • handful of fresh thyme
  • handful of fresh rosemary
  • about 4 bay leaves
  • 200g of any kind of mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 6-8 large vine tomatoes
  • 2 mandarin oranges
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 300ml red wine
  • pinch of sugar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the Pasta
  • 200g plain flour (or TIPO 00 flour if you can get it!)
  • 2 large free range eggs

The sauce needs to be slow cooked, and the best way to do that is covered, in the oven. Ideally, you’ll want a Dutch oven. Yes, that’s a real thing. No, this one had the name first. Possibly, maybe something to do with “marinating” and “developing flavours”. Anyway, if you’ll get your head out of the gutter for one moment, I’m trying to explain that you’ll need a large, covered, oven-proof container. It’s possible to do all the frying in a separate large pan, and then transfer everything to this dish before it goes in the oven.

    Now let’s get cooking. Start off by rubbing salt and pepper all over your oxtail chunks (if your butcher sells oxtail whole, ask him to chop it up for you). Heat a little bit of olive oil in a nice, large, heavy pan (or the Dutch oven). You only need a little oil, because the meat will release it’s own fat once it starts cooking. Fry on a medium-high heat, turning the oxtail pieces so that they brown on all sides. It doesn’t matter that they’re all different sizes, they all get fully cooked in the oven.

    While they’re frying, take the time to wash and finely chop the celery and leek. The thinner the pieces the better. When the meat is done, remove it from the pan and set aside. Lower the heat and gently fry your chopped veg, stirring until soft, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, strip the rosemary and thyme leaves from their sprigs and roughly chop them. Leave the bay leaves whole, but give them a quick crush in your hand. Add them to the celery and leek.

    When I cooked this, I use button mushrooms, because that’s all my local supermarket had. However, you can use any mushroom you like/is available. Just slice them thinly and add to the pan, cooking for another 10 minutes. Take this time to dice the tomatoes. If you can’t get nice ripe vine tomatoes (or they’re prohibitively expensive) use two tins of plum tomatoes, just try to cut them up a bit.

    At this point, everything in the pan should be soft and juicy, almost as though it’s melting. Take a nice big tablespoon of flour and stir it into the mix. That will help the sauce thicken later. Now tip in all the tomatoes and their juice. Give it a good stir and cook for a few minutes. Finally, add the juice from your oranges, the soy sauce, the vinegar, the wine and the pinch of sugar. Side note here: for years, when I heard “pinch” in cooking, I thought it meant very, very little. I’d only pick up about a dozen grains of salt or sugar or whatever. It’s actually quite a bit. Literally stick your thumb and forefinger, separated, into your sugar bowl, then bring them together and lift them out, prize-catcher style (only, you know, don’t drop it for no goddamn reason like those frikken rigged pieces of… sorry). What you’ve got there is a pinch, which is actually like half a level teaspoon.

    Okay, back to the task at hand. Start to pre-heat your oven to about 160ºC. Add the oxtail back into the pan and stir everything around before turning up the heat. Once it comes to a boil, turn of the heat and (unless you’re already using a Dutch oven) transfer everything to whatever you’re putting in the oven. If the juices aren’t covering the meat, top it up with water or extra wine. Put a lid on it and place it in the oven, to cook for 5 hours. If you’re around, take the dish out and stir everything once an hour.

    With one hour left on the clock, we’re going to start on the pasta. Step one, take out your pasta maker. Nah, just kidding! I don’t have any fancy equipment (phrasing!), so I’ll assume you don’t either. But seriously, if you do have a pasta maker then just follow its instructions. Anyway, fresh pasta is super easy to make. It’s just 100g flour per egg for a single serving. Increase as desired. And that’s it!

    Just sieve the flour onto a clear workspace and then make a little well in the middle. Simply crack your eggs into that hole and admire how fancy and cool it looks. Now whisk the eggs a little (you could have done this before adding them to the flour, but then you would have missed how fancy and cool it all was) and start to bring in the flour. Get stuck in with your hands and work in all the flour until you have one big lump. This might be a little tricky, because it should be fairly dry, but it will come together. However, it will look kinda flakey. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to. Now knead it (smush, stretch and bash it) for about 5 minutes and lo! It shall be silky smooth and elastic. Wrap it in cling film and leave on the counter for 30-60 minutes. If you did this part early, put it in the fridge.

    When the oxtail has been in the oven for 5 hours, take it out to let it cool down a little. While that’s happening, roll out your pasta. To do this, split your dough in half to make it more manageable and dust your counter and rolling pin with some flour. Take one half of the dough and roll it out, making a big rectangle-ish shape. The goal here is to make it as consistently thin as humanly possible. Flipping it over and dusting with flour every now and again will help prevent it from sticking to the counter (or the rolling pin).

    When you’ve got it as thin as you can (really put your back into it), fold in half, then in half again, so you have a little square in front of you. Get a knife, or anything with a thin edge, and cut it into strips about 2cm wide. Each of these should be able to unfold into a very long, thin, wide strip of pasta. If they are too long for your tastes, cut them in half. Set them aside and do the same thing with the second lump of pasta dough.

    Boil a nice big pot of water. Throw in a lot of salt (don’t worry, most of it will be thrown out when you drain the pasta, but the rest will give flavour) and a splash of olive oil. The oil helps keep the pasta from sticking to itself. Dump in the freshly made pasta and let the water come back to a boil and keep it there. Cooking time depends on how thinly you managed to roll the dough, so you’ll just have to taste it every couple of minutes to see when it’s ready.

    To keep yourself busy, use a pair of clean kitchen gloves, or just two forks, to strip the meat off of the oxtail bones. The bones are quite tasty, but they make for an awkward pasta, so we can’t have that. If the bones are actually cut through, exposing the marrow, go ahead and have a taste of that. In any case, get them out of the sauce.

    Now your pasta and your sauce are both finished! Drain the pasta well and dish up, stirring the sauce through the pappardelle. Top it off with a little grated parmesan and tuck in. To complete the meal, serve with a glass of red wine, a vinyl record of Pavarotti and a smug sense of self-satisfaction.


(As well as being appropriate for any decadently fancy occasion, this also makes a great choice for a last meal. Not only is it incredibly, wholly satisfyingly, delicious, it also takes so long to prepare that you could probably get in one final appeal before it's ready.)

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