This hearty oxtail ragù is the perfect dish for winter dinner parties

Served with buttery orzo, this is a budget-conscious recipe that's rich in flavor and satisfaction

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published December 11, 2019 5:30PM (EST)

Oxtail Ragu (Getty Images/iStock)
Oxtail Ragu (Getty Images/iStock)

I’m ready for “Friendsmas” to take off in the way that “Friendsgiving” has over the past few years. It’s a comforting prospect, gathering with the people of your choosing to celebrate the season. But even when it’s for the people you love most, holiday entertaining is notoriously fraught. Budgets are tight. The grocery stores are insane this time of year. Everything seems to be covered in sprinkles and frosting. 

That’s why this oxtail ragù with buttery orzo is perfect for winter dinner parties. It’s a "set it and forget it" kind of dish that has all the hallmarks of a good meal: cheese, carbs, wine-stewed meat. 

I’ve been making it for the last few years and found that it’s hearty enough that – when paired with a simple salad and crusty bread – it makes for a full meal. It’s comfort food for the people around whom you are most comfortable. Merry Friendsmas and all that. 

Oxtail Ragù with Buttery Orzo 

(4 servings)

3 pounds oxtails

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

4 medium shallots

2 medium carrots, peeled

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2  ½ cups dry red wine (I like a Pinot Noir)

2 cups beef stock

2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary

2 bay leaves

12 ounces of orzo (You can also pasta, but I'm partial to the texture of orzo in this dish)

3 tablespoons of butter

Parsley and grated parmesan to taste


  1. Pat oxtails dry with a paper towel and then generously salt and pepper them. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large pot — a stock pot works great for this — until it is slightly bubbling and then add the oxtails. Allow them to brown on one side for about 7 minutes; turn them over and allow them to brown for an additional 7-8 minutes. Remove from the pot and set aside. 
  2. To the same pot, which should now be lightly coated with some nice brown bits from the oxtail, add the shallots and carrots, both of which have been finely chopped, and the remaining olive oil. Stir consistently until soft, about 6 minutes. Then add the garlic, stirring until fragrant and slightly brown, about 2 minutes. 
  3. Return the oxtails to the pot and add the wine, stock, bay leaves, and rosemary. The oxtails should be completely submerged in the mixture, so top off with more stock or water if necessary. Bring to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid. Then allow the oxtails to cook; this is a waiting game kind of cooking situation. The first time I made this dish, I kept them simmering until I couldn’t wait any longer (a pathetic 2 ½ hours) and the meat was delicious, but not as “fall off the bone” succulent as I’d like. It seems about 4 hours on heat is this dish’s sweet spot, which is ideal. You can do other party prep while you wait! 
  4. At that point, poke at the oxtails with a fork, and if you deem the meat to be sufficiently falling off the bone, remove the pot from heat. Once the oxtails are cool enough to handle, shred the meat from the bone and return them to the sauce. Discard the bones. 
  5. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook orzo until slightly al dente — about 7 minutes. Strain, return to pot, and stir in the knobs of butter, plus salt and pepper to taste. 
  6. From here, it’s all about plating. I like to serve the orzo on a platter, covered in the oxtail ragu and generously garnished with chopped fresh parsley. Make sure there is plenty of grated parmesan to go around. Red pepper flakes are a popular addition, too. 


By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

MORE FROM Ashlie D. Stevens

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

All Salon Cheese Christmas Food Orzo Oxtail Pasta Ragu Recipe Wine Winter Winter Entertaining