Note: I made this with 5.5 pounds of oxtails and used a 7qt Dutch oven. Adjust accordingly (or make a lot and hey, LEFTOVERS.) Note: since you're cooking tails, just like dinosaurs, they are very thin, get much bigger, and then get thin again. (Bonus points if you get that reference, which is mine.) I used the small tips to sear in my pan, but didn't actually cook them beyond that, since the ligament to meat ratio was a sad face. <-- actual math formula
Two Days before: BRINE.
8 C boiling water added to a large coverable container containing 1/3 C brown sugar, 1/3 C Kosher salt, handful of peppercorns, bay leaf (2), half of an onion. Make sure sugar/salt are dissolved, let liquid cool completely, add oxtails (whole or cut into large pieces.) Cover with ice cold water to make sure they're all submerged, carefully carry this to the fridge avoiding a sneaky German Shepherd that isn't as stealthy as she would have me believe. Refrigerate. Every so often, shake the container and make sure nothing's settled at the bottom of the liquid. Lay your hand on the container and say, "Soon."
Morning/ Day of: SOFFRITTO
This is Italian, so use what you have, they're not rigid like French cooks. (You have more celery than carrot? Cool. Have a red pepper that needs using? Sure. Do not add: shoes, peanut butter, Kleenex, tuna fish.) I used:
1 red onion, roughly chopped
3 medium carrots peeled, roughly chopped
3 stalks of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
handful of celery leaves, scowled at because I thought I'd been rough enough with the other ingredients up to this point, and I figured I'd throw the veggies off with a little Good Cop
Pulse in a food processor until it's almost a paste. Made it a paste? FAIL. DO IT OVE- I'm kidding, it doesn't matter. Drink a glass of wine, keep going. Then share a glass with me. Heat a dutch oven (or heavy bottomed pan from Norway, I won't judge), splash a little extra virgin olive oil in the bottom, add the mixture, stir, add 1/3 C more of olive oil (several glugs, you don't have to be precise), some thyme sprigs, a few crushed cloves of garlic, big old pinch or three of salt and cracked pepper. Bring to a low simmer, stir, cook until everything is very tender, about 20 minutes start to finish. Put in container and let it come to room temperature. (This can be used in soups, sauces, etc. Or you can stand over it and inhale to put a smile on your face in case of the Sads.)
Five Hours Before: OXTAILS
Drain the brine, rinse each piece well, set aside and pat dry. (Trim off some fat, but you're going to want the flavor, so don't get rid of too much!) Shove cats off the counter because they know better, and let's face it, there isn't a kitty around that could take down a cow, so who do they think they're fooling? Heat oil to just below the smoke point and sear off the meaty sides to get a nice char (crack pepper on them as they char), adding more oil as needed to keep the pan from getting dry. Set each piece off on a platter far enough from the edge so sneaky tall dog beasts don't snuffle at them.
In your nice, crispy-browned dutch oven, add your mirepoix (Diced whole onion, 3 stalks celery, 2 medium carrots, all chopped uniform and tiny because the French only let loose when they're having sex) and let the onion sweat and add a few pinches of salt. When all onion pieces look transparent, add in a few minced cloves of garlic and a splash of broth. (NOTE: Mario uses white wine. I detest white wine and don't have it in my house. So. YMMV.) Use the broth to deglaze the pan, scraping up all of those beautiful crispy bits into your veg. Moan accordingly, because that smell is going to make you weak-kneed.
Add a huge scoop of the Soffritto to this, mix in, then add a 15 oz. can of tomatoes (I used Glen Muir's fire roasted crushed tomatoes) and a small can of tomato paste. Mix all of this really well until it's all heated through, and add the oxtails back in, nestled next to each other in their delicious blanket of sauce for sleepy cook time where it will become meaty dreams. (Crack some pepper on them to simulate Mr. Sand-Man and help them on their way.) If you need to add more broth to get the oxtails fully submerged, then add until you get the right amount for your pan. I ended up using almost 3/4 of a box of organic chicken broth for this whole recipe. (Did you see that back door brag? I care about the earth, so...)
Bring to a boil, DO NOT COVER, and then turn the flame down until it's simmering nicely - a gentle little bubbling is all you need. Check on it for some good stirring so nothing scalds on the bottom of your pan, quoting the end of Goodfellas: "Yeah, yeah, I'm stirring the sauce, Joey," but know that this is just going to boil boil toil and trouble in the background for several hours. Let it go until the meat is fork tender and flaky. Does it make you uncomfortable knowing that I just moaned a little thinking about that? We're getting closer. Don't make this weird.
Pull out the meat, scrape the meat off the bones, discard the bones or give to a very good doggy that has been patiently waiting for Mommy to share but send her outside, because she knows what she did with the last bone, ahem. Add the meat back to the sauce. Check salt and pepper.
COOK YOUR FRESH PASTA. (Please use fresh. Or dried. Or some horrorshow that is halfway in between; I'm not the boss of you.)
IN A SKILLET: Add a pat of butter, making sure to say it out loud and pronounce it like Paula Dean (buhder), add several ladles of sauce to this, heat to simmering. Add some pasta, add a tiny bit of lemon zest, fresh parsley, toss to coat, and top with freshly grated Parmesan.
MOAN LOUDLY. POUND YOUR FIST ON THE TABLE. TALK WITH FOOD IN YOUR MOUTH, AS LONG AS YOUR WORDS ARE OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT I FEEL GOD IN THIS PASTA TONIGHT, ETC.
Accept well deserved accolades and make other people wash up. You're welcome.