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October 29, 2009

Oxtails feel a familiar ingredient to me, as if their vertebral flavours are a regular feature in my kitchen; that I have never cooked with them is an indication of how frequently they creep into my daydreams. Their composition of bone in a well-flexed muscular sheath is, simple meat science suggests, crying out to be stewed – easing the flavours from the bone and breaking down the tough fibrous proteins in the muscle into tender, rich meat.

For a while, I have been daydreaming of utilising tails to add a brothy depth to a slow cooked pasta sauce – a full on, meaty Bolognese ragu cooked gently all day on a wood burning stove. Like a proper bolognese, I think a mixture of minced beef and pork – some cured bacon and some minced pork – should form the main substance of the sauce, fried to colour and combined with soffrito onions, celery and carrot (the mirepoix holy trinity), garlic, a glass of red wine and chopped, skinned tomatoes. The tail will be curled into this mixture, before sealing it up and leaving it to meld and simmer in a heavy cast iron pan for most of the day. Before serving, the bones of the tail would be removed, leaving the tender tendrils of meat in the sauce.

A sauce this beefy and luxuriant deserves a proper, fresh pasta, and in the daydream kitchen it is being served up on pappardelle, a thick ribbon pasta – mid way between tagliatelle and lasagna – traditionally served with rich gamey sauces; a perfect match for this stocky number.

I think this would be the perfect dish to eat on a dreich late autumn evening. Close the curtains, shutting out the wind and rain, throw another couple of logs on the fire, and curl up in front of it with this hindquarter delight.

Winter? Bring it on.

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