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Oxtail Ragu, simply the best

People often ask me what my favourite food is, a ridiculous question for someone who lives to eat. I try to explain that it is like asking a musician to choose just one song, a film buff their favourite movie, a theatre critic their favourite play… and so on. 

“Well then, what about a favourite cuisine?”

Nope, can't answer that either. It all depends on my mood, the weather, where I am, what I had earlier, what I’m planning to have later, is it Saturday morning? is it Wednesday night? The list goes on.

BUT one thing I do know for sure would be on my desert island list - if someone superglued a pen to my hand, chained me to a desk and forced me to write one - is a rich and hearty, melt in the mouth, slow-cooked (I’m talking days, not hours) ragu with fresh pasta.

You might have noticed that I am rather a fan. This is the 3rd recipe for ragu on my blog and guess what? I think I'm there – not one dish closer, but AT perfection. This is the DON of ragus. I don’t bother with any others anymore. No more tinkering, I have arrived.

The key for me is the oxtail. "It is not traditional to use", one Italian friend told me, "that’s a meat sauce, not a ragu." Well who the f**k cares when it tastes this good? The silky, gelatinous sheen that the bone marrow gives the sauce as it seeps out over hours and hours of slow cooking is what makes this so dang good.

Everything else about this recipe is the same as the other ragu recipes on my blog with the other key ingredients being:

  • Cured pork, in the form of sausage mince or pancetta (or both if you're feeling extra saucy)
  • A lot of time
  • A lot of love

And anyway, another Italian friend – the kindest, wittiest, prettiest of them all – told me it was better than her nonna’s. Yeah you heard me, that's her Italian grandmother. So screw tradition, praise don’t get higher than that. Decide for yourself.

Serves 4 as a main course (or one greedy person for 4 days).


1 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely diced
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Italian pork sausages (150g approx.), skins removed
100g pancetta, cubed (optional or instead of sausage, though sausage is better)
200ml red wine
800g oxtail
1 bouquet garni (I use bay leaves, thyme and parsley)
2 x 400g tins chopped tomato
1L chicken or vegetable stock
Water (as required, if/when your stock runs out)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To serve

Fresh tagliatelle or pappadelle
Parmesan, grated 


Heat the olive oil in a large heavy based saucepan over a low heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot. Cover and sweat for at least 10 minutes or until very soft, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and sweat for another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the sausage mince to the saucepan, along with the pancetta (if using). Turn up the heat and stir constantly to break it up into tiny pieces, like you would with minced meat.

Add the red wine and bubble and reduce for a minute or two. Reduce the heat to low and add the oxtail, bouquet garni and tinned tomatoes then cover with stock. 

Cook or at least 12 hours, or better yet, make it over the course of a weekend, leaving it to simmer along in the background while you do your chores and drive all your housemates crazy with the smell.

You just need to keep an eye on the moisture level – when it starts to reduce, it’s more likely to burn and stick to the bottom, so keep it topped up with stock or water until you can’t bear it any longer and decide to serve it in the not too distant future (we’re still talking hours).

Remove the ragu from the heat and allow it to cool. When it’s cold, remove the meat from the bone and put both back in the saucepan. Heat again over a low heat and cook for at least another hour or until the meat has disintegrated into a soft and stringy mess and the juices have reduced to a gravy like consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

When you are ready to serve it, remove the bones (and suck them dry before discarding). Serve with fresh pasta cooked al dente. Stir the ragu through the pasta and grate some Parmesan over the top.

I promise it is worth the effort.

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Reader Comments (2)

Ha! I'm sitting on a train going into Copenhagen for a greedy 5 days of New Nordic cuisine, fantasising about making your ragú. Bad timing!

If I have both pancetta and Italian sausage available, would you put both or just the sausage. If so, how much sausage?And the one with fennel or plain?

July 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria

Hi Victoria, sorry about the delay. I have been very slack on the blogging front lately! I often use both, but always sausage if you are choosing between the two. I'd say you probably don't want a sausage that has a lot of fennel in it. Most Italian sausages have a little, but you don't want it to be overpowering. How was Copenhagen?! :-)

August 9, 2017 | Registered CommenterVix

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