Coda alla Vaccinara

Roman Oxtail

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Preparation info

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    • Difficulty


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Alastair Little's Italian Kitchen

Alastair Little's Italian Kitchen

By Alastair Little

Published 1996

  • About

Literally ‘oxtail in the leather-tanners’ manner’, more appetisingly known as the classic oxtail of Rome. The dominating flavours of oxtail, pancetta and red wine are tempered by lots of celery and the alien addition of a little bitter chocolate.

Pay particular attention to trimming the tails of all fat and constantly skimming during cooking. Several memorable versions of this dish in various restaurants in Rome have been spoilt by excessive greasiness. It is best to prepare the dish a day in advance and to refrigerate it overnight. Any greasy fat that has rendered out of the tails during cooking will float and set, and can easily be removed before reheating and serving.


  • 1.5 kg oxtail, separated into its natural joints
  • plain flour
  • salt and pepper
  • good olive oil
  • 100 g pancetta, cut into 5 mm dice
  • 6 celery sticks, stringed and finely diced
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium chilli pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ bottle red wine
  • 125 g tinned tomato pieces
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder or a tiny piece of bitter chocolate


Soak the oxtail pieces in cold water for 1 hour (at least). This will draw out some of the blood. Drain the oxtail, then dry and trim off as much external fat as you can. Season the flour by generously salting and peppering a plateful.

Heat a casserole with a little oil over a medium heat, then add the pancetta, half the celery, the carrot and the onion. Sweat for 10–15 minutes, taking care not to burn, and then add the garlic, chilli and bay leaves.

While this process is going on, with only the occasional prod or stir from you, heat a little oil in a large frying pan. Dredge the oxtail pieces in the seasoned flour then brown lightly and thoroughly over a medium flame on all sides. On no account burn the flour crust, it will spoil the taste of the whole dish. As and when the oxtail is browned, transfer to the casserole, then deglaze the frying pan by pouring in the red wine and boiling rapidly. Tip this into the casserole, then add the tomatoes and enough water to barely cover the meat. Stir thoroughly to ensure an even distribution of the chilli. Bring the casserole back to a simmer, turn the heat down to very low, then cover and simmer for 2 hours. Turn the meat once after an hour. When the 2 hours are up, allow to cool in the casserole and refrigerate overnight when completely cold.

The next day, or 1 hour before serving, scrape off any fat from the surface of the casserole. Bring the casserole back to a simmer (be careful that it does not scorch on the bottom). When simmering, add the remaining celery, then season cautiously and simmer very gently for an hour. About 5 minutes before serving add the cocoa. Stir in and check the seasoning. Turn the heat off and allow the meat to cool slightly before serving. It’s great with chopped parsley mash (or rocket mash or garlic mash).

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