This dish is a last hurrah to winter, of sorts. After this past weekend in Boston, it seems like spring has started in full swing. Families strolled through the city, strollers and dog in tow. Spring beers are popping up everywhere, and my taste buds have rejected my latest attempt at a coffee stout, and are now craving the light and golden taste of spring beers.
I actually made this recipe a week ago, when the weather still hadn't made up its mind about what season it was. This dish would make a good rainy day treat, but an everyday warm weather staple, it is not. Nourishing* and comforting would be the words used to describe this dish. It's another "slow" food, something braised and cooked over a day, with flavors that are deep and well stewed. I made it to go with my gnocchi, and was very glad I did.
*While on the subject of nourishing, my thoughts naturally jumped to carbo-loading, and subsequently the Boston Marathon, which is coming up in approximately 15 days. My dear friend Elizabeth Good is running this on behalf of the South Boston Neighborhood House. She is very close to her goal of $5000, and should you feel inclined to give to a great organization that supports individual and community development, please do so here: link.
For the sauce (Makes approximately 1 quart):
- 3-4 lbs oxtail
- 1/2 lb (around 2-3 stalks) carrots
- 1 large celery stalk
- 1 medium onion
- 1 head garlic
- 1 8 oz can tomato paste
- 1/2 bottle of white wine
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley. Reserve some of this for finishing
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
For the final product:
- Grated parmesan cheese
- sprinkling of parsley
- braised oxtail sauce
- extra drizzle of olive oil (optional)
First, prepare your vegetables. Make your mirepoix of onions, carrots and celery. You can go ahead and dice these by hand, or if you're like me, pulse them in a food processor until they are in small but not minced, pieces.
Lay out your oxtails. Salt and pepper them, and cover with olive oil. Set them aside.
Next, generously coat the bottom of your dutch oven or large stockpot with olive oil. Let this heat up on medium high heat. Add the mirepoix and let that cook down until onions are translucent. Don't forget to season this! It should smell sweet and fragrant. When the onions start to cook down, add the garlic and parsley.
When those are all cooked down to about half its original volume and everything is soft, dig a little hole into the center of the pot so that the bottom is exposed. Here, add the tomato paste and let it caramelize a bit at the bottom of the pan. Then mix it all together, scraping all of the beautiful brown fond off the bottom. Add your dried herbs and red pepper flakes.
Add your oxtail into the pot, nestling it into the vegetables. Once they are all in, pour in the white wine until the tops of the oxtail are covered. Simmer on low/medium heat with the lid askew for the next 2-4 hours. Lift the lid every half an hour. If the liquid has boiled down so that the oxtail are exposed, add water to cover it up. The last time you check on this, add 1 cup of whole milk and mix this in.The milk lends a creaminess and also creates a tender meat.
The oxtail are ready when the meat is falling off the bone. Your mixture should be fragrant and cooked down slightly, with a slightly chunky mixture. Remove the oxtail, set aside for shredding (best done with your fingers!).
I wanted my sauce to be creamy, not chunky, so I pureed it using my immersion blender. See? Then add back your meat. Taste this! Most likely, it will need more salt. The reason why we don't salt during the cooking down process is that you run the risk of oversalting.
When you're ready to cook, add a ladle full of the sauce into a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook the gnocchi on the other burner, and once they are ready, transfer your gnocchi using a slotted spoon directly into the pan. Toss to coat.
Add a drizzle of olive oil to finish, parmesan cheese, and serve up hot. Enjoy.