Farfalle in Oxtail Reduction, with Truffle

09 Aug

(serves 6 – appetizer size)
Ever come across that rare pasta dish that doesn’t use tomatoes, cheese, cream, olive oil or bits of meat? This is it. Its sauce is a high-gelatine reduction of oxtail consommé. Despite its simple appearance, I consider this to be one of my consummate pasta recipes. It has the full flavour of meat, but no meat itself and to round it off, the pasta is lightly topped with a few slices of truffle to give it the perfect aroma. It might take some time to prepare this dish, but its not technically difficult and it will be well worth the effort.


  1. Oxtail (800g)
  2. Dried Red Dates (20)
  3. Truffles Slices in Oil (60g bottle)
  4. Farfalle (300g)
  5. Fennel Seeds (1T)
  6. Thyme  
  7. Oxo Beef Cubes (2)
  8. Brandy


  1. Make deep slits across the white connective tissue to expose the meat beneath. Place the oxtail in a pot and top off with boiling water till the meat is just covered. Use a pot where all your oxtail can fit in without stacking, but keep it as small as possible to minimize the amount of water.
  2. Apply low heat and keep at a slow simmer for 1 hour followed by 2 hours of gradual cooling while covered. Top off with water occasionally to keep the oxtail covered. Repeat the simmer/cooling a seond time. 
  3. Add the red dates and do the simmer/cooling a third time, but this time don’t top up with water. If you add all that up, the minimum cooking time is 9 hours. It would be best if you let the oxtail cool overnight while you sleep in one of the cycles.

    nothing but oxtail, red dates, water and lots of simmering

  4. When the meat is finally shrinking away from the bone (see photo), remove all the solids from the pot. In a bowl dissolve 2 Oxo beef cubes and 1t sugar in half a cup of hot water. Add this beef stock plus 1T fennel seeds, 1T chopped thyme, 2T Brandy to the pot.
  5. Reduce under low heat till the mixture begins to thicken. Cover and allow to cool. This concludes the pre-preparation phase.
  6. When its close to dinner time, boil a new pot of water with a knob of butter and pinch of salt. Half cook your pasta in this and then strain it.
  7. Put your concentrated oxtail bullion through a fine tea strainer to remove all solids and pour the resulting sauce into a non-stick pan and reheat till boiling. Add the half cooked pasta to the pan and stir fry it in the sauce till it is al dente. You’ll probably need to add water to keep the pan from drying up, but add only a bit at a time. At the very end, taste and decide if you need to add salt.
  8. Arrange the pasta on dishes and top off with a few pieces of truffle and a very light drizzle of the oil the truffle is soaked in. A small 60g bottle should be enough but you can use more if you like. If you have fresh truffles to shave on, all the better.


  • The cooked meat can be stripped from the bone and shredded for a second dish like braised oxtail, oxtail shepherds pie or jellied oxtail; no point letting all that work to soften it go to waste. Remember to drench the shredded meat in some of the bullion to keep it from hardening.
  • Why use oxtail when plain beef is so much easier to work with? It is the gelatine extracted from the connective tissue that makes this recipe work, so you need to use either the tail, cheeks or a certain part of the ribs. For a pork version, the trotters will work as well as the tail.
  • I picked bow-tie pasta because its shape is perfect for capturing the sauce. When you look at the picture, you can see the pasta is brown because it is completely coated. If you want to try something else, stick to small pasta that is in plain wheat colour.
  • Dried red dates are a common Korean/Chinese ingredient for soup and they go really well with beef. Another good thing about them is they float, so they won’t get stuck under the oxtail and become burnt during the long simmer (and thats why we didn’t throw in the herbs until the final reduction phase). If you can’t find dried red dates, go with fresh wedges of apple.
  • If you find truffles too costly, you can just use truffle oil without the truffles. Or try other garnishes. Pick those with a strong aroma and weak flavour, for example: Deep fried shallots, pan fried fennel or perhaps coriander/cilantro leaves.

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