As one of the classics of Cucina Romana, Coda alla Vaccinara or Oxtail Stew is a well-known dish in the Eternal City. However, many people are unsure how to cook oxtail or are put off by the long cooking time required to recreate the recipe at home. But if you have a spare half-day to keep an eye on the stew it is actually deceptively easy, incredibly rewarding and will make your house smell amazing.
Created in the Regola district of Rome, the dish originated from the vaccinari, or cattle butchers, who were paid with the leftovers and interiors of the animal, including the tail. Often regarded as the regina del quinto quarto (the queen of Roman offal dishes), this recipe for Coda alla Vaccinara should be cooked slowly, for at least four hours, ensuring that the meat just falls off the bone. It will also provide enough leftover sauce for a great rigatoni pasta dish the next day.
Although there are many versions of the dish, the recipe below is a good place to start. You can use either coda bovina (oxtail) or vitella (veal) and your butcher can prepare it ready for the pot. Traditional variations also often add pinenuts and raisins towards the end of cooking, along with the cocoa powder.
Coda alla Vaccinara (serves 2/3)
900g oxtail or veal tail (about two small tails), chopped into large pieces
700ml tomato passata
3 large carrots
3 sticks of celery
1 clove garlic
1 fresh red chili
1 glass of white wine
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 small bunches fresh rosemary
2 bunches fresh sage
1 tablespoon of bitter cocoa powder
What to do
First prepare the stock, cut one of the carrots into four pieces, one onion chopped in half, one bunch of rosemary and one of sage tied together, one stick of celery cut into large chunks and the pieces of oxtail. Cover with water, add a good pinch of salt, bring to boil and simmer for 45 minutes.
In the meantime finely chop one carrot, one onion, one stick of celery, the chili, garlic and guanciale into small cubes. Once the stock is ready, remove the oxtail and strain and retain the extra liquid.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot and gently cook the finely chopped mixture for about 5-10 minutes.
Add the oxtail and brown for a further 10 minutes, then add the white wine. Once the alcohol has evaporated add the passata, a pinch of salt and enough stock to cover the pieces of oxtail.
Cook on a high heat for 15 minutes then turn the heat to low and cook slowly for at least four hours. Stir occasionally, if the liquid reduces too much just top up with a ladle of stock. About one hour before serving cut the remaining carrot and celery into large slices and add to the stew. Five minutes before serving add a tablespoon of bitter cocoa powder and stir. Remove the oxtail and serve with a dusting of cocoa. Keep the leftover sauce to use with pasta the next day.
Kate Zagorski has been living in Italy for the past 13 years. Married to a food-obsessed Roman, in 2011 she set up a blog to pass on the secrets and stories of Italian cooking and recount everyday life in Rome. Follow on Twitter @AngeloInCucina