Mrs Wong’s Savoury Oxtail Soup

There is sometimes a fine line between a soup and a stew. In general, the Chinese use soups as a beverage to be consumed in the course of the meal. So, if it can be drunk, it is a soup; if you need chopsticks or a spoon, it is a stew. My friend Steve Wong told me that his mother’s oxtail dish was a hyphenated soup-stew, and when I tried it, I could see he was right. Mrs Wong, a true Chinese-American, has in fact blended Chinese touches into Western oxtail soup, making it a bit thicker than usual and adding such exotics as star anise to enliven it. Like all good cooks, Mrs Wong knows how to take inexpensive cuts of meat and bring out their virtues while artfully compensating for any of their deficiencies.

Mrs Wong worked outside the home, so she often made meals in advance. This soup-stew reheats very well and, as with most such dishes, is even better the day after it is prepared.

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Ingredients

  • 1.35 kg (3 lb) oxtail
  • 2.4 litres (4 pints) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 star anise
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 10 small white potatoes, peeled
  • 5 carrots, peeled
  • 1 small celery heart, cut in half
  • 6 spring onions, roots trimmed

Method

Blanch the oxtails in salted boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain them well in a colander.

In a large pot, bring the stock to a simmer. Toss in the salt, star anise, soy sauces and oxtails. Continue simmering gently for 20 minutes, uncovered, skimming several times. Cover tightly and continue to simmer for 3 hours, or until the oxtails are tender. Skim any excess fat from the surface.

Now add the vegetables, cover and continue to simmer for a further 25 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender. Leave the vegetables whole. Ladle into a large soup tureen or individual soup bowls and serve at once.

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