Adventures into Oxtail Ragu and Polenta


I didn't take a proper photo of this because I wasn't planning to blog it. Then I decided halfway through eating I would...which is why the photo looks like this.

I wasn’t going to post this recipe, because really it didn’t quite go to plan. Then I thought sod it, this blog is supposed to be about the cooking and crafting messes I get myself into, and that really ought to include the times those messes go wrong. At least then perhaps others might learn from my mistakes, even if I rarely do.

So, what did I do wrong? Well, buoyed by my recent slow cooking success with pork cheeks I’d decided to try my hand at some of the other less familiar, tougher cuts of meat. This time, my thoughts turned to oxtail; although I did almost switch to some less adventurous beef shin on the bone, my butchers didn’t have any in. Clearly I thought, the oxtail was meant to be.

That is provided what it was meant to be was a bit of a cock up.

Actually, I’m being unfair, this wasn’t a total cock up at all, just a few simple mistakes made, that and the singular mistake that was polenta. Damn that polenta.

I’d remembered a recipe from Hollowlegs blog for Oxtail Ragu with Parmesan Polenta that I’d seen at some point last year. At the time it had looked so tempting, but I’d never gotten around to making it so now seemed the ideal chance. Except, being the fickle cook that I am I wasn’t content to just follow one recipe, oh no. I wanted to branch out. So I turned to my old friend Google and found this recipe from Skye Gyngell in the Independent too. By combining the two and fiddling about a bit more I would surely create a super recipe to conquer all others!

Well, not quite; although I’m actually pretty happy with the recipe below. It was, relatively speaking incredibly easy to make, smelled incredible and tasted pretty damn good too, if only it hadn’t been for my one tiny mistake. The fat.

Oxtail, as it turns out, like a lot of slow cooking cuts, contains an astonishingly large amount of fat. Too large an amount to comfortably be left in the finished dish. It is for this reason I’m sure that Hollowlegs recipe advised you to let the oxtail cool after braising, then drain off the fat. Probably a fairly easy procedure, provided you do this straight after cooking before doing anything else. If on the other hand, you try to remember the basics of a recipe by memory and not only remove the oxtail from the sauce before draining but also give it a bloody good stir the fat will apparently emulsify like a bastard, rendering it one with the ragu forever more.

I realised my mistake almost immediately. In vain I tried chilling the ragu over night in the misguided hope the fat would somehow rise to the top to be easily scooped off. It didn’t. Perhaps when I reheat it, I thought, surely then the melted fat will separate and I’ll be able to skim it off the surface. I couldn’t. Aside from tiny bits here and there the fat and the sauce were now bonded as one and nothing I did would separate them in any significant quantities. So although the final ragu tasted pretty nice it was far too greasy.

I won’t even go into the utter travesty of the polenta. Although I intended to actually follow Hollowlegs recipe this time, I still mucked it up. I used water instead of stock after realising at the last minute that I’d run out of Marigold powder. I left the heat on too high. My cheap plastic whisk fell apart mid-way though stirring, oh how I laughed when that happened! I didn’t add enough cheese. I added far too much parsley and I utterly forgot to add any butter whatsoever. Not that I thought the absence of butter would matter too much given the ridiculously high fat content of the sauce that would be going on top. All in all, my first attempt at polenta was none too successful.

Still I won’t make the same mistakes next time. Honest.

Oxtail Ragu

Serves 4 hungry people, 6 not so hungry people

  • 900g oxtail, cut into chunks (the butcher did this for me)
  • 1/2 bottle red wine (I used a Tempranillo)
  • Bunch of rosemary
  • Bunch of thyme
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, smashed with broad side of a knife and peeled
  • 3-4 allspice berries
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped (I whizzed them in the food processor)
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped (food processor again)
  • 2 small-medium onions, finely chopped (oh the joys of a food processor)
  • 1tbsp olive oil

Heat an oven to 170C, fan 150C, gas 3. If like me you don’t own a proper hob to oven casserole pot, then stick an oven proof casserole dish in the oven to warm up now and use a frying pan for the frying bits. Otherwise heat the oil in a big oven proof pan and brown oxtail chunks on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the carrots, onion and celery to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or so until softened. Return to oxtail to the pan and add the wine, tomatoes, tomato puree, garlic, allspice and bay leaves. Tie the bunches of herbs together with a piece of cotton or string and add them too. Swish the tomato can out with a bit of water and add to the pan, making sure the oxtail is completely covered by liquid. Pop in oven and ignore for about 3 1/2 hours.

After this time remove the pan from the oven and leave until cool or overnight. DO NOT STIR. Once cooled drain the fat off the top and then remove the oxtail from the pan. Pull the meat off the bones and return to the sauce. Stir and bring back up to simmering point. Simmer for 10 minutes or so until it looks nicely thickened and saucy.

Serve with long think pasta such as papardelle or follow Hollowlegs’ recipe properly for parmesan polenta.


4 responses to “Adventures into Oxtail Ragu and Polenta

  1. Oh, Becca!
    I know I shouldn’t giggle reading of your kitchen misfortunes, but… Teehee!

    We all have bad days in the kitchen and, by God, especially if polenta is involved – Bloody thing comes out lumpy 9 out of 10 times.

    I’d still try your oxtail ragu recipe, though 🙂

  2. Aw, you crack me up!

    I love that you post the misadventures too 🙂

  3. Yay, I do things like this too!
    I hate polenta, never have understood it’s appeal, made well or badly, I still can’t abide it.

  4. Good recipe, and brave to do a warts-and-all post. I have taken to removing a lot of fat when i remove the meat from the bones after a few greasy stews. And I feel for you and your polenta – it’s not always as straightforward as it seems.

    My worst thing is reaching the end of the recipe, everything bubbling nicely away on the stove, at which point I spot a pristine pile of something that I forgot to add…

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