“Coda alla vaccinara” is Oxtail cooked the Roman way, the way of the Testaccio area, where the abbatoir used to be and where poorer people, for centuries, only had access to the cheapest cuts of meat … including the tail of the animal.
Interestingly, chocolate or cocoa powder, raisins and pine kernels are also part of the recipe … one doesn’t associate chocolate with Roman food normally. I think that considering how expensive chocolate would have been, the addition of this ingredient must have been the preserve of only the richer kitchens of the city.
The fist time I ate coda alla vaccinara was at my mother in law’s. It didn’t sound at all appetising but I was in a situation whereby I had to at least taste it in order to be polite. My courteous approach was rewarded: I loved it! (Her version is a little different from the following one and makes use of a pressure cooker to save time.)
The first thing to do is soak the cut up chunks of coda in plenty of cold water for at least 4 hours. I left them overnight.
Brown the coda in a large pan with some olive oil.
And here are the ‘odori’, the scents, that are going to accompany the coda: celery, onion, garlic, parsley, carrot, and slithers of lardo.
You could chop everything by hand but I preferred to whizz them in the food processor.
Put the coda to one side in the pan …
Also add as much tomato passata as is necessary (I can’t give precise amounts because that will depend on how much coda meat is being cooked).
Enough water to allow the chunks of coda to float about freely in the pan. At this point I decided I didn’t ‘like’ the pan and so transferred the lot to a large heavy-bottomed casserole dish.
Ah … that’s better! I added some salt and pepper now too.
I put the lid on and simmered it for 3 hours.
I then removed the lid and let it simmer for a further 1 hour.
Now is the time to add coarsely chopped celery leaves.
After ten minutes, add a handful of pine kernels and raisins … as many or as few as you care to add.
After ten minutes, add 3-4 teaspoons of cocoa powder … sift it first.
Mix the sifted cocoa powder with a glass of red wine.
Add the cocoa and wine to the coda and cook for another 10 minutes. In other words: 10 minutes with the celery leaves, ten minutes with the raisins and pine kernels, and ten minutes with the cocoa powder and red wine … for a total of about 30 minutes. The coda will have cooked close to 5 hours altogether, including the browning at the beginning. It’s a tough meat and needs a long time to stew. My mother-in-law cooks it in a pressure cooker first for 1 hour with celery only and then throws the cooking water and the celery away, and doesn’t brown the meat.
It is a ‘thick’ stew … as you can see, a wooden spoon can stay upright in it.
I happen to love it! I hope you enjoy it too, one day. Buon appetito!
Lovely recipe, Jo, and great to read after my trip round Testaccio area last Thursday and writing about visiting the market and old slaughterhouse now turned art gallery. Was brought up with lots of offal cooking – I guess tail isn’t offal, but that kind of thing, lambs hearts, liver, etc.
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