22 May, 2010

Paola's Oxtail Ragu with Creamy Sage Polenta

About a month ago, I wrote a status update on Facebook saying how I wish I liked Polenta, but that I just have never been able to get into it. Paola left me a message saying that her favorite way to eat it was with her Italian family's oxtail ragu. My interest was piqued. I'd never made anything with oxtail before, and I was determined to find a way to love polenta, so I asked her for the recipe, which she gladly sent me.

This is a really good one. I'm a sucker for a really flavorful sauce. And the creamy version of the polenta (something I got from Rouxbe Cooking School, and tweaked it a little to make it my own) was absolutely outstanding. I can't imagine not liking polenta anymore, now that I've had the real deal - a version that isn't grainy. The trick is to use finely ground polenta (cornmeal). It also needs a vigorous stirring every minute and a half for a full 30 minutes. I also added more liquid than Rouxbe's version called for, to make it extra creamy.

The trick to the oxtail ragu is to cook it for 8 hours in a crockpot on low heat. If you can make it a day ahead, you can put it in the refrigerator and skim the fat off the top the next day. I did it that night, but it's not as easy when it's in liquid form.

Serves 4.

Oxtail ingredients.
  • 1 oxtail (2 - 3 lbs), dredged in flour
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic (I used 8, because I'm garlic-crazy like that)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 TB tomato paste 
  • white or red wine (I used red)
  • stock (I used beef)
  • 1 TB fresh oregano
  • 1 TB fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 TB olive oil
Polenta ingredients.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock 
  • 4 1/2 cups milk (I used 2 cups milk + 2 1/2 cups heavy cream because I ran out of milk)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups finely ground cornmeal (polenta)
  • 3 TB fresh sage, chopped (can substitute with thyme) (I used 2 TB sage and 1 TB thyme, both fresh)
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 1 TB butter
Oxtail instructions.
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, brown the surface of the oxtail on all sides in olive oil, about 8 minutes. Remove the meat.

Add the meat and the remaining ingredients to a crockpot. If the oxtail is not completely covered, add more wine or water to cover. Cook on high for 1 hour and then turn down to low and cook for another 7 hours. The ragu is done when the meat literally falls off of the bones. Discard bones and bay leaves. Skim the fat off the top before serving. (It's easiest to skim the fat off when it has cooled down overnight, and it is eaten the next day. However, this time I skimmed it off when it was still in liquid form and it worked okay.)

Polenta instructions.
In a 4-quart saucepan, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until glossy, about 3-4 minutes. Be careful not to brown them. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add stock and milk, and then season with salt and pepper. Using a whisk, stir in the polenta cornmeal in a very slow, steady stream, whisking constantly in one direction. When all of the cornmeal has been incorporated, switch to a wooden spoon, and stir the polenta every 1-2 minutes for about 30 minutes. When you stir it and the polenta pulls away from the sides of the pan, it is done. I also tasted it and it was creamy and not grainy.

A couple of minutes before taking it off of the heat, stir in the sage, butter, and parmesan. Spoon into bowls and top with a healthy ladleful of oxtail ragu.

Gallery of images.

Frozen and thawed.

Oxtails dredged in a little bit of flour.

Put it in the crockpot and let it cook all day, stirring occasionally.

Polenta (fine cornmeal) and grated parmesan

Fresh sage from our herb garden - polenta in the cooking process

Creamy polenta covered with its perfect mate: oxtail ragu!

Thanks to Paola Thomas for her fantastic family oxtail recipe. It will probably become our family recipe now. It received a 10 out of 10 rating from both me and my partner, Rick.