If possible, buy only the larger joints of the oxtail, since there is more meat on the bones and less work picking it off. But usually (and almost always in supermarkets) a single tail is cut and packaged together. If you’re ordering oxtail through a butcher, ask him to remove as much of the outer fat as possible, and to cut the oxtail cleanly at the joints. If the tail is cut haphazardly bone chips can occur, which are annoying and can be very dangerous. It’s always a good idea to pick over the pieces of oxtail before you cook with them to make sure there are no fine pieces of bone.
In the traditional Roman dish of Coda alla Vaccinara, the cheeks of the oxen are braised along with the oxtails. Because this is a very rich and savory sauce, I do not use cheese to dress the pasta, but some people do. I’ll leave it up to you. If you decide to dress the pasta with cheese, use grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
The braised oxtails, left on the bone, make an excellent cold-weather main course, served with polenta. If you’re serving the oxtails as a main course, you might want to cut the vegetables larger so they hold their shape during cooking
- 2 ½ pounds oxtails (preferably all larger pieces, but probably one whole oxtail, cut between joints to pieces of varying size)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded (about 1 cup)
- 1 cup chopped celery (with leaves)
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 2 cups dry white wine
- One 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), with their liquid, crushed
- 3 to 4 cups Chicken Stock or canned reduced-sodium chicken broth
Soak the oxtails in cold water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly and pat them dry. Season both sides of the oxtail pieces with salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add as many oxtail pieces as fit without crowding into the pan. Cook, turning as necessary, until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. If necessary, remove the pieces as they brown to make room in the pan for remaining pieces. Remove all the oxtail pieces from the pan. Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, parsley and garlic, season them lightly with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are wilted, about 4 minutes. Pour in the wine, bring to a vigorous boil and cook until the wine is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and their liquid. Bring to a boil, lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer and season lightly with salt and pepper. Tuck the oxtail into the sauce and cook until the oxtails are very tender (the meat should be practically falling off the bone and the vegetables disintegrated into the sauce), about 3 hours. As the oxtails cook, add the chicken stock, about ½ cup at a time to keep the level of the liquid more or less steady during cooking. Cool the oxtails in the cooking liquid to room temperature. Skim the excess fat from the sauce.
Remove all meat from the bones, shred it coarsely and return it to the sauce, (You may serve the oxtails whole, if you prefer.) The pasta sauce can be prepared and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat. Stir the rigatoni into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, 10 to 11 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, return the oxtail sauce to the pan if necessary and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.
Drain the pasta, return it to the pot and pour in about half the sauce. Bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring gently to coat the pasta with sauce. Remove the pot from the heat, toss in the cheese if using, and check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Spoon the pasta into warm bowls or a warm platter and ladle the remaining sauce over the top. Serve immediately.