I've been on a vintage cookbook kick for a little while now. You gotta love eBay and the books you can find for dirt cheap. I justify my cookbook obsession in terms of entertainment. For $0.99 plus shipping, I get a week of reading entertainment. You can't beat that. Sometime in the spring, I bought The Meat Stretcher Cookbook by Better Homes and Gardens, copyright 1974. Although overall it didn't offer too much inspiration outside what to cook in the future for two ravenous teenager, I was introduced to recipes for cuts of meat that in 1974 were cheap, and now, almost impossible to find. Of course, my desire to try the weird and wonderful from cookbooks lead me on a non-intensive search for some of these cuts of meat, like beef heart and tongue and tripe. A few weeks after reading this cookbook, I was ambling through the slim spring pickings of the farmers market, when I happened upon a beef rancher who was selling these cuts of beef. I settled on an oxtail thinking I would find some way to cook it, and put it in the freezer. There it has languished since spring, calling my name ever so quietly. The recipes I was finding for oxtail were very uninspiring to me. I just couldn't bring myself to make the unappetizing sounding Oxtail Gumbo (from the same Meat Stretcher cookbook) or the Oxtail Stew from a 1965 Betty Crocker vintage called Dinner in a Dish. It wasn't until I was perusing The Gastronomy of Italy by Anna Del Conte that my inspiration came to me, Coda alla Vaccinara (Braised Oxtail). The picture looked so comforting and homey, I was salivating and knew I had found the recipe.
Oxtail is a very tough and gelatinous cut of meat and needs the long cooking time that braising gives. Sadly, when I mentioned to my neighbor that I was making oxtail, she said that oxtail is her Filipino father's favorite dish but she had always been too afraid to try it. Go ahead and try it! It is well worth it. Since I started this dinner Saturday morning for a Sunday night supper, it made the big family dinner extremely easy come Sunday. My mother-in-law called it a keeper. I'll definitely be making it again.
Coda alla Vaccinara (Braised Oxtail) adapted from Gastronomy of Italy by Anna Del Conte
You need to make this dish a 1-2 days before you are planning on serving it to let the flavors meld.
2 1/2 lbs. oxtail
1 lb. pork belly (unsmoked bacon)
3 Tbls. olive oil
1 Tbls. chopeed fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
scant 1 cup dry white wine
2 Tbls. tomato paste diluted with 1 cup beef stock
2 cups thickly sliced celery
freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the pork belly into 1 inch strips. Put the pork belly, olive oil, parsley, garlic, onion and carrot into a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and saute until soft. Add the oxtail and fry gently for a few minutes longer. Splash with the wine and boil rapidly to reduce, turning the meat over a few times. Add the diluted tomato paste and salt to taste. Cover the pan and place the casserole in the heated oven. Cook for about 2 hours unti the meat is tenter, turning it over 2 or 3 times. Remove the pot from the oven and leave to cool, then put it in the refrigerator until required.
On the day you are serving the dish, remove and discard the solidified fat (it was all solidified for me so I couldn't remove anything, everything in moderation right?) from the surface. Put the Dutch oven on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Add the celery and cook, covered, for 20 minutes longer. Add a generous grinding of pepper, taste and check salt before serving.