GCC: Menu 5 - Braised Oxtail with Wine and Herbs and Polenta

Braising is the classic cooking technique for food to be browned in hot fat, then covered and slowly cook in a small amount of liquid over low heat.  It’s ideal for preparing tough cuts of meat, such as beef short ribs and pork shoulder, oxtail, shanks and many more.

This method dissolves collagen from the meat into gelatin, to enrich and add body to the liquid. Braising is also very economical, as it allows the use of tough and inexpensive cuts, and efficient, as it often employs a single pot to cook an entire meal.  Most braises follow the same basic steps.

The food to be braised is first seared to brown its surface and enhance its flavor. If the food will not produce enough liquid of its own, a small amount of cooking liquid that often includes an acidic element, such as tomatoes, beer, or wine, is added to the pot, often with stock. The dish is cooked covered at a very low simmer until the meat is fork tender. Often the cooking liquid is finished to create a sauce or gravy

For the Gutsy Cook choice this week we had the Braised Oxtail with wine and herbs and instead of pairing it with the most likely candidate of mashed potatoes, we took it one step further and instead choose to cook polenta as the perfect side dish.

While the recipe calls for Oxtail, and I highly recommend to use this cut of meat, it can also work with short ribs, in fact I may try it to do it with short ribs in the future.

I also replace the fennel with leeks, mainly because I don’t like the fennel taste in food.  Another thing I did was served it with gremolata, which is a typical toping used by Italians to add to Osso Bucco and its made with chopped parsley and lemon zest.

My other recommendation is to cook this the day before serving it, the meat will just suck the juices of the sauce and become more flavorful.  Since I was going to use this menu for our Sunday lunch with our respective moms, I made it the night before.  The best part of this recipe is that the braising takes place not on the stove top, but in the oven.  I simply put everything together and then covered it and stuck it in the oven for 3 hours.  I did not even take it out of the oven once it was done.  I simply turned the oven off, and left it in there overnight.  The next day, I simply took it out of the oven and place on the stove burner to warm it up again.

The dish was such a hit.  The oxtail is high in gelatin, which gives it a extraordinary texture and makes the meat fork tender, it simply melted in your mouth, and the braised sauce of carrots, leeks, onions was the perfect topping for the creamy polenta.  I was praised all around the table.

makes 6 serving  

  • 6½ lb (3kg) oxtail, cut into 1½ in (3.5cm) lengths
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp chopped thyme
  • 2 tbsp chopped rosemary
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, cut into large chunks
  • 1 fennel, diced leek, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 fresh hot red chiles, chopped (I could not find fresh chiles, so I used Sriracha sauce)
  • one 750ml bottle hearty red wine
  • chopped parsley, and the zest of a lemon to garnish

The stew can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days, and gets better as it rests. 

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Toss the oxtail in flour that has been mixed with about a tablespoon of salt and pepper, (I also added a bit of chopped thyme), to coat lightly. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan (or dutch oven) over medium-high heat. In batches, add the oxtail and cook, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes, until browned. Transfer to a large plate.
  2. Drizzle the honey over the oxtail. Sprinkle with the thyme and rosemary, and season with more salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan (or dutch oven). Add the vegetables, garlic, and chiles and cook for 6 minutes, until softened. Place the oxtails on top of the vegetables and add the wine. Cover and bake for 2–3 hours, until the oxtail is very tender.
  4. After you take it out of the oven you may have a bit of fat on top of the sauce, with a spoon skim the fat from the surface of the sauce.   

Tips and tricks: 

  1. If you are going to served it the same day, the best way is to place on top of what ever starch you choose to serve it with it (mashed potatoes or polenta), then spoon some of the sauce over it and garnish with the parsley/lemon mixture.
  2. Or you can cooled it down, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days (it gets better as it rest, you can also freeze it for up to 3 months).  
  3. If you have any left over sauce, it is great with pasta, specially fettucini
  4. If you are serving it a day after, simply warm it up on the stove top at medium low heat.  This will give you the perfect time to make the polenta. 

Which was our second dish choice.

Polenta is made with ground yellow or white cornmeal (ground maize) originally made with Chestnut meal in ancient times. Polenta was originally and still is classified as a peasant food. Sometimes topped with sauces, in the 1940s and 1950s polenta was often eaten with just a little salted anchovy or herring.

Polenta is traditionally a slowly cooked dish. It sometimes takes an hour or longer, and constant stirring is necessary. The time and labor intensity of traditional preparation methods has led to a profusion of shortcuts. These include alternative cooking techniques that are meant to speed up the process. There are also new products such as instant polenta, popular in Italy, that allow for fast, easy preparation at home.

My paternal nonna (grandmother) was a wiz in making polenta the long way. She used a huge copper pot known in Italian as paiolo. And would stir it over and over until the cornmeal turned into this rich, soft, velvety mixture.  She will then add a bit of butter and lots and lots of parmesan cheese.  She also made a polenta dolce (sweet polenta) which was placed in the refrigerator overnight to firm up, then cut into diamond shapes and coated them with beaten egg and bread crumbs and then deep fried.  It was my favorite snack.

Since I don’t have a paiolo or the time to stand over the stove to stir and stir, I went the instant polenta route. You can find them in your supermarket, most italian markets also carry the italian brand of instant polenta, which are very good.  The only thing I need to tell you is that when then mean instant they mean instant.

This goes pretty fast, and I suggest that if you are serving this in a dinner/lunch party, make your guest wait for it… the polenta cools down pretty fast and as it cools it does harden, so my rule of thumb is to have everyone eating a bit of appetizers while you whip this up and once is ready, its time for everyone to sit down at the table.

makes 4 servings  

  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (you may need a bit more, so I recommend to have at least an additional 1 cup of stock to the side, you can also use warm milk)
  • 2/3 cups instant polenta *(the book called for 2 1/3 cups of polenta, I used only 2/3 cups)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more to serve
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper - taste it before seasoning, since the chicken/vegetable stock is already giving it quite a bit of flavor and you don’t want to over salt it.
  1. In a large saucepan, heat the stock over high heat until almost boiling.
  2. Gradually whisk in the polenta, then continue to whisk about 3 minutes (it may be done faster), until the mixture is thick and soft. Take off the heat and continue to mix, if you see that is drying up,  add a little more stock or milk, if necessary to make it smoother.
  3. Stir in the butter and Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. 


Tom “This is a winner, the oxtail is delicious and the meat just melts, love the rustic taste of the whole thing”

My mother “This is a winner, it’s soo good and the polenta is perfect with it.”

Tom’s mother “This is simply delightful, I agree with your mom, the polenta is luscious”

In my case, I love both dishes.  If you organized yourself the right way, this can be such a great dinner/lunch party menu.  The Oxtail can be done up to 2 days ahead of time, so basically the day of the party all you have to do is warm it up and then cook the polenta up.  Serve it alongside some great cheese platter as appetizers and you got yourself a rustic, warm meal - perfect for cold weather too.

Both recipe has been adapted from The Kitchen Bible.  Remember to visit the other Gutsy Cooks to see their take and results to this week’s menu choices.