Saturday, May 21, 2011

All Hail Oxtail, Kale and Homemade Pasta

Red Wine Oxtail with Tagliatelle, Kale and Mushrooms

Standard blogger protocol dictates that after an extended lapse of posting, the first few sentences of the post that ends said lapse should be spent giving reason as to the how’s and whys that caused it. Anyway.

I think I’m wrong in saying that nothing shouts ‘sexy’ like a cut of meat that’s spent its life at the business end of a quadruple-stomached herbivore. And also that nothing quite signals the arrival of summer like a serving of braised, rich red meat accompanied by various forms of starch. Of course, neither does. But personally I’m not one to restrict foodstuffs to a time of the day or year. I mean, cereal still tastes good at and a kebab is just about okay when you’re sober. So just because the temp’s skipped up a few degrees and the sun isn’t covering itself like a fat girl on a beach, why should ‘stewing’ suddenly be tut-tutted over?

In an ideal world making a dish should always start with one step; choose the product you want to focus on (e.g. pork, salmon, lamb, cheese, etc.) and build the dish around that. I say an ideal world because whenever I end up cooking at home its more like;
Step 1: Open Fridge
Step 2: Spend 10 minutes determining which contents are actually edible.
Step 3: Desperately scratch head.
Step 4: Prepare to get really fucking creative.

Thankfully in this case it was the former. In this case it was oxtail. Oxtail’s pretty hard to come by and even in decent butcher shops it’s somewhat of a rarity. So imagine my surprise when I spot it, not in the meat counter of some uber-trendy specialist foodstore, but my local Tesco. I considered it almost a dare and when 750g cost less than a fiver, well it was on like Donkey Kong. Oxtail is exactly what it sounds like, not like those ambiguous cuts like brisket or blade that you couldn’t tell what part it was without the aid of a CSI-style wall chart. It is the tail of a cow, which consists of a jointed bone that runs through it and tough muscle that surrounds it. This muscle allows the animal to raise and swish its tail for reasons that have no need of explanation. As a result this is definitely a cut that is treated with the ‘low and slow’ approach. Because if you think that this is going to be anything approaching edible after less than an hour of cooking than you will be certainly needing to ensure that you’ve the evening set aside for some prolonged and uncomfortably chewing. Not to mention an up to date dental plan. The upside of this is that it is chock full of the kind of fat, cartilage and connective tissue that guarantee, when treated right, all kinds of succulent awesomeness. Also you get bones, and yes this is a good thing. As they have the ability to impart flavour like no-man’s business, after all it’s what used to make stock so why wouldn’t it make you’re Sunday dinner better? Also they’ll protect the meat they’re attached to, keeping moister as it cooks. So yea, bones are good.

Once I had it bagged and tagged I then had to start thinking about what I was gonna put with it. A walk through the veg aisle later and I spot curly kale on special offer. Everyone knows that wilted spinach with pretty much any meat is a winner, but though less used, kale still deserves a shout out. It’s like the girl at the bar surrounded by her much hotter friends. That while not seemingly the most attractive choice, gives it up in spades after just a Jagerbomb and a positive comment about her glasses. In other words; minimum effort, more than satisfactory results. I then (currently writing in the knowledge that that misogynistic analogy has probably turned away all female readers) had the idea of shredded oxtail, bright green kale, all tossed through pale yellow tagliatelle. A few days later I was explaining this dish to one of the chefs in work. ‘Slow cooked meat in a pasta dish, a bit unusual isn’t it?’ they said. ‘Oh, and Spaghetti Bolognese is what exactly?’ I replied. They thought for a moment before obediently leaning their head forward to within slapping distance.

It is definitely one of the ‘slow cuts’, so even though I’d never actually cooked it before I still had a decent idea of how to get the best from it. Because as I’d said in my [Pork Belly] post, once you know how to deal with one such cut, the others all fall into the same basic preparation. With this I decided a slow braise with mushrooms, bacon and garlic, all swimming in a good load of red wine. Because what liquid doesn’t suit that list of ingredients better? I also decided that I’d really make an evening of it so decided to make my own pasta. A task that some cooks dread and fear like a visit to the headmaster, that just happens to also be your dentist. But while admittedly the first time is always a drawn-out, somewhat painful and potentially embarrassing experience (and the same can be said for making pasta, ow, don’t touch me coz I’m on fire!) I find it be a relaxing and rewarding exercise and while it takes a bit of practice, there’s few moments as rewarding as when you serve up your first batch of competently made ravioli. I'm not going into too much detail as a detailed method on making homemade pasta is almost worthy of a post unto itself.

Red Wine Oxtail Tagliatelle with Kale and Mushrooms

The Braise:
3 large cuts (750-800g approx) oxtail
5-6 button mushrooms, roughly chopped
2-3 rashers of bacon, roughly chopped
1 large sprig of thyme
2 red onions, roughly chopped
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 very large glass of red wine
300-500ml of stock, but water would be fine

  1. With a sharp knife remove the layer of fat around the outside of the cut.
  2. Heat a pan until hot and add oil. Season oxtail pieces well with salt and pepper and sear until all sides have some colour.
  3. Remove and set aside. Add bacon and fry until it begins to colour.
  4. Add the remaining dry ingredients and sweat for a few minutes. Then stir tomato puree through.
  5. Pour in the wine and let reduce by half.
  6. Add water/stock and bring to boil.
  7. Remove from heat. Place oxtail cuts in a baking dish and pour the bacon/veg/wine pan contents over and around. Ideally the meat should be covered by ¾’s.
  8. Cover with a lid or tinfoil and place in an oven at 140 degrees centigrade for three hours.
  9. When done remove from oven and let sit (still covered) for at least half an hour.
  10. Remove meat, and separate from the bone. If this is difficult more cooking is required as it should pull away easily. Roughly chop and place in a bowl with a few spoonfuls of the sauce and cover to keep moist. Strain the remaining braising jus.
Pasta dough
250g strong flour
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground tumeric (for colour)

1.      Place all dry ingredients in a mound and shape so there’s a ‘well’ in the centre.
2.      In a bowl roughly mix the egg and oil together and pour into the well.
3.      Starting slowly, start bringing in the dry ingredients and begin to work into a dough.
4.      Knead for a couple of minutes before placing in the fridge.
5.      Ideally do this when the meat goes in the oven and then it’ll be ready to roll when the meat comes out.

To Finish (per serving)
Reserved Oxtail
Reserved braising jus
Pasta dough
3-4 button mushrooms, finely sliced
2 rashers of bacon
Half red onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 sprig of thyme, finely chopped
Half a glass of red wine
1 handful of kale, stems removed and roughly shredded
Grated parmesan to serve

  1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
  2. Tear off about a quarter of the pasta dough and roll through the machine, starting at the widest setting then changing to the next one down after each ‘roll through’ until come to the thinnest setting. Dust lightly with flour and roll the sheet as you would a Swiss roll. Cut into strips of desired thickness. Leave to dry slightly as you prepare the rest of the dish.
  3. Heat a frying pan until hot and fry bacon with a little oil until lightly browned.
  4. Add mushrooms, onion, garlic and thyme and sweat for a minute or two.
  5. Pour in wine and reduce by at least ¾’s.
  6. Add about 100ml of the braising jus and about 100g of oxtail. Bring to boil, add water if necessary. At this point put the pasta into the boiling water, as it’s fresh it’ll cook very quickly, mine was al dente within a minute.
  7. Toss kale into the sauce, should start wilting soon after.
  8. Once the pasta is al dente, using a tongs, fish out the pasta and place straight into the pan with the sauce. Toss through for one-two minutes.
  9. Spoon out onto serving plates with freshly grated parmesan.
  10. Give self the mother of all back-pats.


  1. Beautiful combination. I have been slow cooking lamb this autumn (so far). Shoulder and shank. The Oxtail gives me something to work on. I love the combination with the wide pasta. Nice post,

  2. I'm returning from self-imposed exile from the blogsphere to say the following: thanks dude!

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