As I have discussed previously, I often cook more of a dish than I need for that meal, so that I have something left over to go into a plastic storage container for another meal in a day or two’s time. Whether, technically, those are leftovers or the product of strategic planning, is perhaps a topic for discussion around a table of anally-retentive / obsessive-compulsive types who have already had one too many glasses of wine…
Kitty made some oxtail (my father’s warped name for the same dish is “beef bum-wiper stew”) a week or so back, which she served with polenta. It was delicious and, according to her, came the closest that she had ever done to her late mother’s version of the dish. We ended up with leftovers, for which I already had a cunning plan… I would rework the oxtail into ragu, which could then go over pasta one night. Another option is to put the de-boned oxtail in ravioli – B had enjoyed just such a dish, which was stunning, at the Ten Bompas restaurant some years back.
The following recipe is based on something B did recently with some oxtail that she had made for me prior to one of her extended trips to Moscow, after she had returned to find the oxtail still lurking in the freezer. I suspect there is also some influence from her recent Tuscan cooking course.
Reworking oxtail into ragu
The messy part involved deboning the leftover oxtail, separating the already-tender meat from the remaining bones. The bones went into a stock pot with the leftover herbs, to be boiled a while longer so that I could extract the remaining meat and have some stock to enrich the ragu.
My trusty JamieO / T-Fal deep frying pan went onto the gas hob with a few glugs of olive oil and 1 or 2 sliced garlic cloves. As I have described previously, I let the oil warm through slowly, extracting a subtle garlic flavour from the sliced cloves, without the potential harshness of crushing the cloves into the sauce. Once the slices turned golden brown, they came out (once drained of the oil, they make “interesting” nibbles for those who don’t mind garlic taste and breath for an extended period, but I usually just bin them). Whilst the oil was chatting up the garlic cloves, I had finely chopped some brown portabellini mushrooms – those went into the warm oil along with a knob of butter and a few sprigs of thyme to simmer and soften.
After 5 minutes or so, I added the oxtail meat and leftover gravy to the pan, stirred them into the mushrooms and let things warm up again. I then added a big dollop of tomato paste (I keep a tube of tomato paste in the fridge for just such flavour-enhancing moments) and a spoonful of whole-grain mustard. Once those had started to get well-acquainted with the meat-mushroom mix, I poured in some red wine and a glug or two of port. I left the mixture for a few more minutes, allowing the alcohol to evaporate and the fluids to reduce a little. I then added a stock cube, which I had dissolved in some boiling water, stirred it all up, and left it simmering slowly until the fluids had reduced and the gravy had thickened up again. Oh – when I was stirring, I also broke up the larger chunks of meat.
On the neighbouring gas ring, I still had the stock pot going, with the leftover bones. When that had reduced nicely, I pushed the whole lot through a sieve over a bowl, so that I could extract the stock. By then, I had run out of time (this was the same afternoon that I made the basic tomato pasta sauce and planned on cooking the Sicilian-style tuna for dinner), so I turned off the ragu, decanted it into one plastic container, put the stock into a separate container, and left both to cool before putting them into the fridge.
The advantage of allowing the stock to cool in the fridge was that, a day or so later, I could easily remove the layer of fat that had settled on top of the rich stock. The stock and the ragu went back into that famous pan and onto the stove to warm up and reduce a little further. A word of caution – with all the reducing, based on a dish that had already been seasoned and to which I had added a stock cube, there was no need for any further seasoning.
The ragu would be delicious over some penne or tagliatelle, or as filling in some homemade ravioli (which remind me, at some stage I need to post my pasta dough recipe) – or, even better, as pelmeni filling (pelmeni are Ukrainian or Russian pasta parcels, similar to ravioli – I will post that recipe at some stage, too). The ragu would even work on a slice of toast, as a real bachelor meal! This batch of ragu, however, went straight into one of those ubiquitous plastic containers, clearly labelled (I put a strip of masking tape on the lid and write on that with a permanent marker), and into the freezer. There was enough to make a warming meal for two on a cold winter’s night when I don’t feel like cooking from scratch, or don’t have time.
I have some baby leeks in the fridge, surplus from a chicken pie I made recently. Later today or tomorrow I am going to use those leeks, with the meat from some pork sausages and some crème fraîche that I found in the freezer, to make yet another pasta sauce – but that is a topic for another posting.