Food

Korean oxtail soup – my original “bone broth”

Nothing quite like this dish to soothe your deep to your core, especially on a cold, wintry day

Bone broth has made its way into pop culture as a delicious, simple dish, catching people’s attention with the added potential properties of being healthy and good for you.

But before bone broth was even a part of the lexicon, we, growing up as the 1st generation children of our Korean parents in the US, would have our own versions of this on a frequent basis.

Korean cuisine today is well-known for its grilled meats, and its now famous kimchi and banchan (“spread of side dishes”) – but probably a little less known for its array of broths, soups, and stews – all usually coming from some kind of bone-in kind of stew. Whether plant-based, like a miso base soup, which would often be based on seafood, like salted fish or clams for stock, or meat-based, where the base would be centred on either chicken or beef – Koreans love deep, umami sensational stews.

There are plenty of amazing stews and soups worth trying in cuisine, all usually steeped in deep flavour, but one of my favourites growing up was oxtail soup.

Oxtail soup – my original bone broth

What makes oxtail soup so unctious, so delectable, so indescribably perfect for the soul? It’s a dish that I don’t often think to reach for, but when the craving hits, nothing else can satisfy. There is such simplicity in the dish as well, that its purity and connection to its countryside ancestry makes it all the more enriching of an experience.

Oxtail soup is almost all that it says it is – I don’t know about recipes, and the proper ways of chefs and today’s fusionary foods – what I do know is that I can make this dish myself by stewing oxtail in a pot of water, low and slow, for a while, until the meat inevitably starts to fall off the bone.

That’s one of the amazing things about this meal – oxtail is very rich and fatty, and will never end up tough once stewed. It’s an amazing cut of meat to enjoy.

The most important part of this process is the clarifying – and this is the part that as a younger person, I never really understood. When my mother used to tell me about skimming the fat, I used to think – but fat is where the flavour is! It was only in my later years, when trying to make this dish myself, that I realised how removing the fat, patiently, taking time after boiling down, and cooling, and skimming, and repeating, is how the broth concentrates in its flavour, its purity. Taking the fattiness away reveals the broth’s core, something that is really quite remarkably hard to describe in words.

It’s well worth the effort, to skim the fat here through the process of stewing, cooling, skimming, and repeating, until you’re left with nothing but a broth that is clear and full of flavour.

It’s a memory, a feeling, a deep sense of tradition, that once you have it, you’ll unlikely forget, and will definitely crave again.

How to serve it, and eat it

The way to eat this dish is to serve the broth over steaming fresh white sticky rice, garnished with a bit of spring onion (of course, it’s Korean food), and if you’re particularly feeling the desire for authenticity, served with a side of cabbage kimchi, or for extra credit – radish kimchi (“gakdugi” – see the picture below.)

This is important – sprinkle a generous portion of rock salt and black pepper over your stew, and you’ve got this amazing, clear, simple broth, that suddenly pops with the saltiness and flavours of the accompaniments.

Pull out a joint or two of the beef, and serve it in your bowl, and with your spoon, you can gently pull the meat off into your bites of broth, rice, and kimchi. That little mix, where the redness of the kimchi starts to bleed into your broth, is a sight and taste that doesn’t leave you.

You can also use a soy and vinegar dipping sauce for your meat, which you can choose to dip into as an alternative flavour.

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