Oxtail Soup 곰탕 (テールスープ)


Oxtail soup is the broth of the gods! It’s deeply robustly beefy delicious.
Shopping so often in the little Korean grocery store means that I see many foods which are unfamiliar. Though it leads me to a neighboring cuisine, I can’t help but be curious. I rarely see the tails of cattle for sale anywhere else! Imagine my surprise when I saw some lovely fresh oxtails in my regular grocery store. I grabbed a couple of packages and hurried home to find my Korean cookbook.

As you can surmise from the huge ugly snowbank in the parking lot, hot soup is very appealing!
The weather warms, the snowbanks melt and concentrate the dirt, more snow comes, and the snowbank rises. By spring there will be oily black muck where the snowbanks were.

So why did my store have oxtails? There are a number of immigrants from Mexico and Central America in this area and my store is beginning to stock items which appeal to them. Remember the oxtail soup (caldo de cola de res) in the book Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (1992)?
Apparently oxtail soup is enjoyed all over the world. In Andalucia, Spain, ‘rabo de toro’ is traditionally made from the tail of bulls killed in bullfights and is seen as a delicacy. In Germany, there are two kinds of Ochsenschwanzsuppe: the country kind is eaten with the bones and veggies, the city soup is strained and thickened, served with thinly sliced leeks and fresh parsley. In the United Kingdom, it’s a thick, slightly glutinous gravy-like soup popular since the 18th century; it’s available canned by Heinz, or as a powder-mix from Knorr.
In Japanese it is called te-ru su-pu (tail soup). It is a regular item at all the Okinawan/Japanese American Restaurants on every Hawaiian Island. Whenever it’s on the menu, in all it’s variations, it may be Hawaii’s most popular lunch entrée.
In Korea, it’s called gori gomtang or kori komtang (곰탕) or gom gook (곰국). Some recipes included an onion, daikon radish or turnip, or Korean sweet potato starch noodle (glass, cellophane, or clear noodle).

did you know this soup is also know as gom (bear) gook? I thought it was a bear stew when i was younger but didn’t complain once cuz it was so damn good!
jung, It never occurred to me that it was kom as in “bear”. that’s really cool and also makes me wonder what the original connection was, maybe linked somehow to the birth of korea myth?
—from a comment on this Easy Oxtail Soup post

Tip: names of Korean soup dishes generally have a -guk or -t’ang suffix; names of thicker stew have a -jjigae or -jim suffix.

Oxtail Soup

Korean Cooking
•for everyone•
by Ji Sook Choe and Yukiko Moriyama

page 14
serves 4

  • 2 ½ pounds oxtail(1.13 kg)
  • 4-inch piece of kombu (recipe uses MSG)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2-3 finely chopped green onions
  • Condiments to eat with the soup:
    kimchee, finely grated garlic mixed with soy sauce, grated ginger, or ground chili pepper
  • freshly cooked white rice on the side, or added to the broth when the meat is finished

Wash the oxtail and place the joints in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Discard the water and scum. Rinse the meat.
Put the kombu and meat into a clean pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low. As the water simmers, skim off the scummy foam. When no more foam rises, cover and simmer for 3 to 4 hours. Be sure the meat is always covered with water.
The soup is done when the meat is tender: test with a skewer. In fact, the meat should be so tender that it almost falls off the bones!
Chill the soup. Remove the layer of fat from the top and discard. The broth should be gelled.
From subsequent internet research, I found many recipes which directed the cook to remove the meat and bones. The broth is then brought to a boil for a period of time—not sure how long—so the fat emulsifies with the gelatin. This is how the broth turns whitish. I believe that the meat is removed before the boiling so that it will remain tender: high heat can make protein tough.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve in warm bowls.

new earth second series, episode 1


4 thoughts on “Oxtail Soup 곰탕 (テールスープ)

  1. Delicious! In italy we have a traditional dish from Rome, it’s called Coda alla Vaccinara. That’s an half way of roasted and braised oxtail with mixed vegetables like carrots, celery and onions. Great really :)

    • Ooo! Sorry to have neglected Italy. Sounds really delicious!
      I have Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cook Book (Knopf 1980), and there is a recipe for Coda alla Vaccinara. She recommends that visitors to Rome should make an effort to eat this dish. She notes that accinara now means tanner but it is the old local name for butcher.
      The notes introducing such recipes always make me want to travel, to see and taste…

  2. Thank you for the mention of my post about oxtail soup in Like Water for Chocolate.

    In our local carniceria, early in the morning, I sometimes see the whole tail, freshly skinned, hanging from a hook with the entire hind quarter, head and rib cage on other hooks. To sheltered shoppers, used to seeing only packaged meats, sights like this can take some getting used to. In Mexico, it is a normal sight, and everyone knows this is what a butchered animal looks like before being cut into tidy pieces. I appreciate that all parts of the animal are used.


    • Hi Kathleen,

      There is a description of how to use a whole tail in my small Korean soft cover book. I almost wish I could buy a whole tail and cut it myself. This dish would have the whole assortment of bones and meat from big to small—not just the biggest and best. A different eating experience, revealing the relationships of the diners: quick vs. slow, or generous vs. selfish.

      And the collection of bones would make an interesting collection. Perhaps just a photo of the collection would suffice?

      I know a woman who is making some ingenious sculptures with bones she gets from venders at our local farmers’ market: pig, cow, buffalo, and lamb.

      I sometimes get a ‘creepy’ feeling looking at the neatly packaged, plastic wrapped, styrofoam dishes, cuts of meat at the grocery. I once saw a toddler, not watched by his mother, poke a finger into a container of ground hamburger and snag a large bite of raw meat. (I did tell mom.) The sanitary packages sometimes seem so artificially sterile.

      On the other hand, it is convenient…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s