Dining date: 1/2/11
A meaty ragu (with pasta) is one of my favorite foods. If there’s one on the menu, there’s a pretty good chance I’m ordering it. One of my favorites is an oxtail ragu commonly served with a wide, flat pappardelle pasta. There’s just something about the beefy, meaty oxtails imparting their flavor into a rich and hearty sauce with pasta. It’s a dish I’ve wanted to make for some time but was never quite confident enough in my ability to do it. Turns out, it was actually fairly easy. Just takes a little time, but it was well worth it.
As with any dish, there are tons of different recipes out there but I found one from Mario Batali out of the Babbo Cookbook. With the Batali name attached to it, I chose this one to follow…well, mostly. Technically it’s for gnocchi with oxtail ragu, but I figured I could follow the recipe and just substitute the gnocchi for pasta. The recipe is as follows:
Recipe (adapted from Mario Batali, Babbo Cookbook)
2.5 lbs oxtail
Kosher salt and ground pepper
Flour, for dredging
1 onion, diced
2 cups red wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Pecorino romano, for grating
Salt and pepper the oxtails and dredge oxtails in flour. Sear until well-browned on all sides. Remove oxtails.
Add onion and cook until lightly browned, a few minutes. Add red wine, scraping up the browned bits, followed by the chicken stock, tomato sauce and fresh thyme. Bring to a boil.
Add back the oxtails and their juices to the pot and put into a 375 degree oven for 3 hours.
Once oxtails are tender and falling off the bone, remove from sauce and let cool. Strain the sauce or blend all ingredients to achieve a smooth consistency.
Once the meat has cooled, pull meat apart from bones and shred into small pieces. Add back into sauce.
Cook pasta according to directions. In a saucepan, add meat and sauce to warm. Once pasta is a couple of minutes away from being done, drain and place pasta in saucepan with enough pasta water to maintain desired sauce consistency. Cook sauce and pasta together until well-incorporated and pasta is done. Plate and grate cheese over the top.
I followed the recipe fairly closely, carefully browning the meat and braising them until tender. Once the braise was done, I let the oxtails sit for a few hours to cool and for the fat (and there was a lot of it) in the sauce to settle at the top, where I tried to skim as much as I could. As much as I love oxtails, they’re not the healthiest cut of meat – there’s a ton of fat (flavor!). I tried to minimize that as much as possible in this step. I then blended the sauce up in its entirety to create a smooth consistency.
Once the meat was pulled apart and put back into the sauce, I was ready to assemble the pasta. I experimented with two different dried pappardelle pastas (as much as I would’ve loved to use fresh pasta with this, it’s a lot of work and I’m not very good at it) – a thicker, wider Delverde variety and a thinner, eggier Rustichella pappardelle. Basically, those were the two varieties my local Bristol Farms carried.
Taste-wise, I preferred the thicker and wider Delverde pasta but found it to break apart while cooking far too easily. I could understand it breaking apart if overcooked, but these guys starting falling apart after a few minutes of cooking. The Rustichella variety held up together perfectly during the cooking process, but it didn’t have the same mouth feel as the thicker Delverde.
Fully assembled and plated pasta with the Delverde.
And the Rustichella.
I also experimented with a couple of added touches. I liked adding some bitter greens (I had some Chinese broccoli on hand, of which I used just the leaves – they worked very similar to rapini); I thought it added a whole new dimension, and its fresh, slightly bitter flavor helped to offset the richness of the dish. Plus, it made me feel less guilty about eating this in large quantities. I also did one with some clementine zest (’tis the season!) which added some bright citrus to help cut through the richness, though I preferred just the greens.
I was pretty happy with the way this turned out. I’m still searching for the perfect pasta (it may have to be made fresh…sigh) but I thought the ragu was exactly what I was looking for. Rich and tremendously flavorful, it would’ve worked well on any pasta. Or even mashed potatoes. Or spread on some toasted bread. Probably with any starch. I’ll definitely be making this again.