Famous for dishes that highlight quinto quatro, the “fifth quarter” or oft-ignored parts of an animal, Rome sounds like my kind of town. Alla vaccinara is old Roman for “butcher’s style” and no other cut could be more appropriate for such a designation than oxtail. Unappealing to most, a butcher would know that when properly prepared, oxtail can be much more enjoyable than pricey ribeye or tenderloin.
Unlike other offal that hide behind cutesy names (sweetbreads for thymus glands, adidas for chicken feet, rocky mountain oysters for uh, cow “berries,” and soup number 5 for see preceding item), oxtail is exactly what it sounds like. It is, in fact, the tail of an ox-slash-cow, so unless there’s a nuclear spill nearby, there’s only one small sliver per beast. I’m convinced, however, that the neighborhood meat counters rarely carry oxtail not because of low supply, but because the white-clad guys behind the counter keep it for themselves.
Until the day the vaccinari hones a cleaver and gets its hands on the vacca, the oxtail wags away happily while shielding sensitive bovine parts from the harsh elements and inappropriate bulls gone wild. Since oxtail gets quite the workout, in addition to being bony, the meat that it does have is Schwarzenegger-tough. The adage goes, “The closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat,” and it couldn’t be more true for oxtail. Slowly simmered for hours in an aromatic base of tomatoes and white wine, a rich broth is produced from the bones and the tough meat is coaxed into silky tenderness.
recipe adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Coda alla Vaccinara
Roman Braised Oxtail, Butcher’s Style
makes 4 to 6 servings
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
2/3 cup diced onions
2/3 cup diced carrots
2 1/2 pounds oxtail, severed at each joint
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup diced plum tomatoes
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
- Coda alla Vaccinara is best made at least a day in advance. The rendered oxtail fat will also be much easier to remove if refrigerated before serving (see“if preparing ahead of time”).
- Add 1/4 pound of diced pancetta to the soffritto (sauteed aromatics) for a richer base.
To Prepare the Soffritto:
In a wide saute pan or enameled dutch oven, combine the olive oil, parsley, garlic, onion, and carrots. Place over medium heat and saute for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. The onions should be slightly translucent and the garlic pale gold.
Italian Cooking 101: The Soffritto – saute the parsley, onions, garlic, and carrots in extra virgin olive oil
To Braise the Oxtail:
Push the soffritto base to the sides of the pan. Increase the heat to medium high and add the oxtail to the middle of the pan. Turn the oxtail pieces until lightly browned on all sides, about 4 to 6 minutes.
Add the wine and simmer for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and 1 cup water. The oxtail should be about halfway immersed after adding the water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and braise for 1 1/2 hours.
Add the chopped celery and stir thoroughly with the other ingredients. Cover and simmer for another 45 minutes, or until the oxtail meat is tender and almost falling off the bone.
cooling the braised oxtails
If serving immediately:
Tip the pan and skim as much of the fat as possible.
If preparing ahead of time:
Let the coda alla vaccinara cool to room temperature while uncovered. Cover and refrigerate overnight, for up to 3 days. Once thoroughly chilled, the rendered oxtail fat will congeal on top and is easily removable with a spoon. Remove the fat and reheat gently over medium heat to serve.