Oxtails! My oh my how I love thee.
We grew up with oxtail stew, a deeply rich, hearty stew perfect for cold days. You don't find them that often in the market. So, when they appear, I'll usually pick up a few pounds.
What Are Oxtails?
The oxtail is the tail of a steer, usually cut into segments. It is a tough, flavorful cut, well marbled with fat, and perfect for slow braising in stews or soups,. And here's the best part, the bones have a ton of collagen, so good for making a gelatinous stock.
Oxtail soup is served all over Hawaii. Unlike the thick and hearty stew I grew up with, the Hawaiian soup is relatively light with a thin broth and seasonings from ginger, star anise, orange, green onions, and cilantro.
Peanuts make an appearance too. What a combination! The flavors just sparkle.
By the way, although oxtails are often hard to find at regular markets, Costco and Asian groceries often carry them.
What Makes This Soup Hawaiian?
Although famously local food in Hawaii, oxtail soup was Chinese inspired. It was so loved by transplants from Okinawa, it became popular in Hawaii. The islanders made it their own by adding more aromatics (like star anise and dried orange peel), tossing in peanuts, and topping it with ginger and more fresh herbs.
The restaurants most famous for serving great oxtail soup in Hawaii happen to be connected to bowling alleys.
Why Parboil the Oxtail First?
Parboiling (partially boiling) oxtails frees the bones impurities that may cloud the soup. If you don't want to parboil the oxtails, you can also roast them for about 30 minutes in a 350°F oven on a sheet pan before boiling. This not only adds an extra layer of flavor, but also helps extract some of the fat.
What Is Dried Orange Peel?
Chenpi (or chen pi or chempi) is a sun-dried mandarin or tangerine peel that serves as an aromatic in Chinese cooking and medicine. Traditionally, it was made using green, unripe citrus fruits.
Just like herbs, mandarin peels get more pungent when dried. Here's a method for making your own. Or you can just buy it at Asian and other international markets or online.
Oxtail Soup Substitutions and Additions
- Feel free to add or remove the peanuts, based on your preference
- Add fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms
- Substitute mustard greens with baby bokchoy or another vegetable
- Add a cinnamon stick, some whole black peppercorns, and/or a bay leaf
- Substitute fresh orange or tangerine peel, if you don't have any dried
- Add chopped carrots, onions, or daikon
- Use beef broth instead of water for a thicker, richer flavor
- Replace the salt with fish sauce, miso paste, or soy sauce
More Delicious Oxtail Recipes
Hawaiian Oxtail Soup
An ingredient that may not readily accessible is dried orange peel. (You can buy it pretty easily in Hawaii and in most Asian grocers.)
What I did for this ingredient is I used a vegetable peeler to strip off a long strip of peel (just the zest) from an orange. I set it on a shelf in my kitchen for a week to dry out. It worked great!
If I didn't think ahead to dry the peel, I would just use a couple teaspoons of orange zest instead.
2 pounds oxtails
1 strip dried orange peel (zest, not the pith), see recipe note
2 whole star anise
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
Salt, at least 1 tablespoon, plus more to taste
1/2 cup shelled and skinned raw peanuts (can sub roasted unsalted peanuts)
1/8 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 cups loosely packed coarsely chopped fresh mustard greens
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Green onions, white and green parts, sliced on the diagonal
Freshly grated ginger
Parboil the oxtails, trim of excess fat:
Fill half a large (5-quart) pot and bring to a boil. Add the oxtails, and parboil for 30 minutes. Drain the pot, and rinse the oxtails in water. Trim the oxtails of any excess fat.
Simmer the oxtails for 1 hour:
Return the oxtails to the pot. Cover with water by 1 inch. Add the orange peel, star anise, ginger, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 1 hour.
Add the peanuts and simmer longer:
Add the peanuts and simmer for 2 to 3 more hours, until the oxtail meat is tender and falling off the bone.
Skim the fat:
At this point, you can either skim the fat off the soup and proceed to the next step, or let the soup cool, and chill it overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, the fat will have solidified and will be easy to pull up from the top of the soup.
The flavors will also be absorbed by the oxtails, if you let the soup sit overnight.
Add the chili flakes and mustard greens:
Bring the soup to a simmer again. Add the chili pepper flakes and mustard greens. Cook for 5 more minutes, or until the mustard greens are tender.
Garnish to serve:
Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro, green onions, and freshly grated or julienned ginger. Serve with steamed white rice and a side of soy sauce for dipping.
If you want, you can strip the meat off the bones before serving. We prefer the meat served bone-in, in which case, you will want to provide a bowl for the bones.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 41g||53%|
|Saturated Fat 14g||69%|
|Total Carbohydrate 6g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||10%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 23mg||115%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|