This is a fourth post that I am writing on His Excellency The Oxtail Stew (coda di bue alla vaccinara) … which tells me two things. One … that I like it and two, that I like to play around with variations.
Today’s variation is much closer to my mother in law’s recipe – which eschews chocolate, raisins and pine kernels and which concentrates, instead, on the fragrance and kick of His Majest the Celery. Celery stalk and celery leaves, the full monty.
I happened to eat a delicious coda at a friend’s house not so long ago and was surprised to learn that his variation contained a touch of cinnamon (he also added a couple of cloves)! He being a chef, I thought if was his touch of brilliance but a little research revealed that cinnamon is an integral part of oxtail stew in the town of Viterbo, in northern Lazio. I sedulously write all these methodological details because people can get very ‘hands-on-hips’ about this recipe. “THIS is the way it’s done!” “No! THIS is the proper way to cook coda in Roma” “Ha! my great-grandomother’s cousin’s next door neighbour used to make it THIS way”. And on it goes.
I gave the matter some thought and decided that, aside from ingredients that enhance taste, the oxtail is really all about technique. It’s a tough ol’ meat and takes forever to cook. My mother-in-law, a woman of practical bent, wouldn’t dream of making a coda without a pressure cooker. It’s a bit like cooking stock too … it exudes plenty of scum that needs to be removed one it starts simmering. Bearing all this in mind, I think I can contribute a few useful tips, whichever variation you have in mind.
a) this kind of meat needs to be thoroughly rinsed before use – so either soak it in a tub of water for about 4 hours or leave it overnight.
b) Before even dreaming of adding any taste, it’s best to simmer the meat. That way the scum is got rid of. Simmer for about 40 minutes – then drain and rinse under running water if necessary, and pat dry. Now you can begin adding taste and cooking the coda.
c) Count on having to cook the meat for about 4 hours (including the 40 minutes of simmering in boiling water), maybe even a little longer. Slow cooking it is the best way, no need to resort to a high flame.
INGREDIENTS : 2 kg of oxtail, plenty of celery (almost two bunches), 1 onion, 1 carrot, some guanciale (pork jowl) or pancetta, plenty of plum tomatoes, 1 bayleaf, cinnamon.
Following on from what I wrote above, the first thing to do is make a celery stock.
This stock will be added to the stew by and by, as it simmers. All you have to do is put loads of celery (both stalk and leaves) in a saucepan and bring it to the boil, let it simmer for about half an hour or so. Done. Set aside and keep close to the other large pot, the one in which you are going to cook the coda.
At the end of two hours, add some cinnamon. I was very cautious and added only the amount you see in the palm of my hand. Towards the very end of the cooking time, however, I added a pinch more after my tasting it had warranted such a recourse. It gave the stew a really nice depth, without in any way being ‘forceful’. In other words, you couldn’t even taste the cinnamon as such.
Coda di bue alla vaccinara requires bread to mop it up. No bread, no coda – seriously. You start off doing the polite thing, using a knife and fork … but, however tender the meat, you reach the point where you just have to use your fingers and gnaw away at the knuckle. Don’t bother otherwise. You mop the sauce up with the chunks of bread, wipe the plate clean … and then dash off to the loo to wash your hands. I always know when people are happy because they sigh (Aaaaah) and nod their heads slightly.
This was head-noddingly good!
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