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Ox Tail Soup: A Matriarcal Prairie Tradition from the 1800′s

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This soup boasts the richest broth and the most succulent beef of all soups.

It wasn’t until a year ago, maybe two, that I realized how off putting Ox Tail Soup could be to some. I have grown up with it my entire life and it is definitely a family favourite. Above is a way I have learned to serve it to those who might be more squeamish: deboned. You will not attain a richer beef broth or create a soup with more succulent meat. Ox Tail Soup truly is a hidden prairie treasure.

Oxtail is the culinary name for the tail of cattle. It used to refer to only the tail of an ox or steer, a castrated male, but now it can be from any cow. An oxtail typically weighs 2 to 4 lbs. (1-1.8 kg) and is skinned and cut into short lengths for sale. On the farm, nothing ever went to waste. My mother learned how to make oxtail soup from her mother who learned it from her mother and no one remembers how far back the tradition goes: “for as long as we were farming and there were cows” was the answer I got.

For some reason, I never thought of the bone with the succulent gelatinous meat on it as part of a tail. It was just delicious. The compound word “oxtail” came from a realm that didn’t relate to a body part to me, as a child. Or, as an adult. It was simply homefood. Not food you would serve to company, as I was brought up in the era of Campbell’s Soup. Homemade soup was definitely peasant food. Those who had money bought their soup in a can. The richer you were, the more varieties in your pantry. That is just how it was.

But those of us who had mothers who cooked (and that was just about everyone down the block, in those days) knew that there was nothing as delicious as a homemade soup. An oxtail soup was the King of all soups.

The preparation is the same for all bone in soups: carrots, onion, celery, bay leaf, peppercorn, and a bundle of parsley covered with water. If you want a darker stock, add more onion skins: the more skins, the darker the stock. I keep my extra skins in a ziplock for making stocks.

Cover everything with water, and bring to a low boil, or a simmer. Do not ever bring your stock or soup to a rolling boil. Then: skim, skim, skim. I usually simmer my bone in stocks and soups for a minimum of 4 hours. More likely I will have them on the back burner for 6 to 8 hours, then outside overnight to form that layer of fat on the top that I can peel off to reveal the gelatinous goodness underneath.

Personally, I prefer serving oxtail soup with the bone in. There is nothing more delicious that slurping the rich morsels of beef off of the very tasty bone. Certainly, not company food served like this, unless you know one another very well!

I strain everything out of the soup gently separating all of the bones with meat on them into a bowl and the stock into another bowl. I discard all other vegetables, skins, etc. from the sieve.

In our house, homemade soup must have homemade noodles. This is not a “Valerie” thing, or a Canadian prairie tradition. This is a “Vanja” thing, or a Balkans tradition. In the prairies, the soup would traditionally be made with pot barley.

I confess, I did leave a couple of baby bones in the soup below. I could not resist. Discarding them is criminal once you have let the meat fall off one and drawn all of the flavour from it onto your palate.

The broth can stand alone. It is a very deeply complex beefy broth that will definitely find you raising your brows in delight.

The bone in soup, below, is sans noodles: oxtail soup in its purest form. (I see one noodle snuck into the photo!) This is pure Alberta prairie pleasure.

Can you imagine the incredible meat on this tail? Unless you have tried it, you cannot. Oxtail used to be a very cheap cut, but is now quite pricey. More have discovered this find. If you have not, I hope this has motivated you to try it.

I know I am not alone here. I would love to hear how many of you with a few generations in Alberta and roots from a farm recall this soup!

Oxtail Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds or 1.5 k of oxtail
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1.5 onion, sliced, peeling left on
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced
  • small bundle of flat leafed parsley
  • 2 bayleaves
  • 5-6 peppercorn
  • water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Place first seven ingredients into a heavy cast iron pot
  2. Cover with water
  3. Bring to a low boil; skim, and simmer for 6 to 8 hours
  4. Refrigerate until cold; remove surface fat
  5. Reheat until gelatinous texture liquefies, but is not hot to touch
  6. Strain; setting meat on bone aside and discarding all else
  7. Simmer more if broth is not intense enough (with lid off)
  8. When desired flavour of broth is achieved, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add homemade noodles or pot barley, if desired
  9. Return meat to the broth and cook until barley or noodles are done
  10. Serve hot with a dish for discarding the bones, and enjoy!

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About Valerie Lugonja

Educator, Writer, Gardener and Traveler who believes in buying and eating locally, and most importantly cooking at home!

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  1. VALERIE! That is making my mouth water at work, I wish I was in your kitchen with a bowl of that right now! Oh, what bliss that would have been yesterday with that miserable weather we had!

    • Valerie says:

      Miss Kitchen Magpie!
      That is exactly why I made it. It was fr-eeeee-zing for the first weekend in June! Bah! :)
      Valerie

  2. Looks delicious Valerie! I would definitely try this recipe. Where do you get your noodles from?
    Trevor made braised oxtail last night and it was delicious. We even served it to unsuspecting company (on the bone) with no raised eyebrows! I’ll probably post about it in the next day or two.
    - Courtenay

    • Valerie says:

      Good for you, Courtenay! I can’t wait to read about it. I also love braised oxtail, but I have always deboned it for service as it has always been for company. Did you eat it like ribs, with finger bowls. ;)
      YUM!
      Valerie

  3. I had to giggle at the Campbells soup comment, isn’t it funny how things change. Love your version of oxtail soup Valerie & I could not agree more about the wonderously rich stock such a soup gives, its the best isn’t it. I’m with you on slurping around all the little bones – oxtail soup is a soup for soup lovers :)

  4. I love this, but I HATE deboning oxtail! I would serve it to the nonsqueamish!

  5. Not off-putting at all, Valerie. But I grew up with this kind of eating. It looks rich and delicious, and recipes like this are wonderful on a cold and rainy day. You can smell it cooking all day.
    We make out chicken broth with chicken feet as well as a chicken carcass. Definitely makes people hesitate. :)

  6. Valerie! My Mom makes ox tail soup, but I don’t think she uses the same ingredients as you though. It’s more of a Chinese style soup. I don’t eat much meat and have never been interested so I really don’t know what she puts in there and how she cooks it. Next time I’ll be sure to pay more attention…teehee. I do know that like you, they rave about the ox tail meat and how sinfully delicious it is to be able to suck the juices and everything else out of that bone. If Mom makes this soup again, I will be sure to bring you and Vaja a bowl. Knowing you my dear, I know you would love to compare the two versions. Your soup does look mighty drool worthy. Good thing Gary has my Mom’s cooking to enjoy because he would never be able to enjoy something like this from me. This is not my style of cooking. I know, I need to get out of my comfort zone and start exploring new recipes. Gary would be going bonkers over this. All that skimming was definitely worth it. Just look at that beautiful clear oxtail soup. I know somebody was very happy to smell and taste this deliciousness in your house, lucky guy ;). It’s always a pleasure to drop by and see what adventures you’ve been up to, my dear. Another great post, Valerie!

  7. Sorry, spelled Vanja’s name wrong.

  8. See I learn something new from you each and every time. Who would have thought to add onion skins to a broth for deeper, darker flavour, not me.

  9. Well I won’t take your advice and give cow tails a try :) It is funny before reading this post I had no idea that Ox Tail Soup actually had tails in it!
    I will however take your suggustion about the onion skins – I had no idea!
    It is so wonderful how you and Vanja hve your own special version of the soup with his noodles

  10. I’ve never had it but I can only imagine how delicious it would be. I’m not sure if I’ve even seen oxtails at the market but now I’ll have to look! I love these recipes handed down from generation to generation. I’ll be saving a copy!

  11. How fabulous that you have decided to recreate such an old recipe. Its history that you get to eat, you can’t get much better :). The soup looks meaty and hearty but simple and satisfying.
    *kisses* HH

  12. Hello Valerie!! I would love to try this wonderful soup, my mom always threw in a couple of oxtail in her caldo de rez soup. I never had campbell soup growing up. When I finally did as a college student, it was horrible. I would much rather have homemade. Thanks for the tip on adding extra onion skins for a darker stock.
    sweetlife

  13. Oh goodness Valerie what a perfectly prepared soup…gorgeous!
    I am a vegetarian but no stranger to preparing meat dishes, although this is one I have yet to prepare for meat lovers. Just fantastic :)

  14. Gorgeous soup! I, too, was brought up on canned soup except for the couple of “peasant” soups handed down from my grandma to my mother: a different cut of meat than the oxtail, but poor man’s soup of the cheapest cut of beef, potatoes, cabbage and onion. It is warming to the body, heart and soul! Your soup brings back those memories and your soup looks so flavorful and delicious! Soup like this is so filled with love!

  15. this looks heavenly!!! and so very comforting!! thank you for sharing this.

  16. Val – I’ve never tried oxtail soup, but I’ve tried tripe..what’s wrong with this picture? I was also raised on canned soup, Campbell’s all the way, and Campbell’s Chunky on special occasions (my mom waas a career woman – not a cook by any stretch). This is why homemade soup is still such a luxury for me, and to simmer it for hours, seasoning and tasting, is sheer, unadulterated pleasure to me. The way you described this soup, and by the photos, I’m seriously craving some. Just because it’s like 96 degrees today, doesn’t mean a good,hearty ‘beefy’ soup isn’t in order. It looks incredible – your photos are just perfection.

  17. It’s so funny that you’re writing about oxtail soup, Valerie – Peter just bought some oxtail last weekend for us to make soup for the first time (we’d better get on that!). You’re right – it was quite pricey. But, if I can get that succulent, flavorful soup out of it … mmm, “simply homefood” sounds perfect :) I confess, I’ve never added onion skins to a stocks – that never even occurred to me! To think I’ve been throwing them out for year! Criminal!

    I have no qualms about the bone ;) I think I’ll try the soup sans noodles, so all the flavor comes through unfettered. Thanks for a great recipe for us to try!

    Have a great rest of your week, Valerie!

  18. Look delicious!!! gloria

  19. I do learn a lot of things from you Valerie! Oxtail soup I have never had and your post makes me want to make some right now. I had no idea about the onion skins! Wow! As usual I am amazed at your knowledge.

  20. Oxtail I’ve had but never in a broth. In Nigeria we use it a lot and I love it. This puts a totally new spin on it for me.

    • Valerie says:

      OZ! (Kitchen Butterfly)
      So wonderful to hear from you. I have neglected you and have been working toward saving some time to get back to your site and savour your work! I will very soon! I would love to know what you do with the oxtail in Nigeria? Is there a traditional dish? I would love to see you write about it. :)
      Valerie

  21. I really hope that you saved some of this for the dreary days that we’ve had this week… it looks so wonderfully restorative. I feel warm just reading this post! :)

  22. I have always wanted to cook with oxtails! This soup is the best way to start~

  23. The homemade noodles that is a tradition from the Balkans is also found in the Levant; we make homemade noodles called reshta that are added to soups; the noodles are very plain, only flour and water.

  24. Good ol’ OxTail. What a lovely piece of meat. Soup looks great Val

  25. Oh delicious! My grandma made this a very long time ago, and I remember just loving that savory broth. You made me want to make my own batch (although I might feel a bit squeamish ordering that meat) I only wish it was a bit cooler here…we were in the 100s today. Thank you for sharing another inspired recipe. I hope you have a wonderful start to your week. Hugs and love from Austin!

  26. As a new Canadian and came to the country about 6 years ago, I am quite surprised that you use oxtail.

    When the first time I came here, I missed sop buntut (Indonesian oxtail soup) and had a hard time to find oxtail unless I went to Asian or special meat markets. Nowdays, oxtail becomes more more available at many grocers in Winnipeg.

    Anyway, thank you for the recipe! I’m a sucker when it comes to oxtail.

    • Pepy!
      That is fascinating! Oxtail is a common and old food definitely used in the prairies and a soup I was brought up on as a seven generation Canadian. Succulent meat! I had no idea it wasn’t as available in Eastern Canada!
      A pleasure to “meet you”! :)
      Valerie

  27. Love the recipe question though cause I grew up eating oxtail soup why discard the veggies they are delicious with the soup

    • Valerie Lugonja says:

      Thanks, Marvin!
      A simple recipe, but extraordinarily flavourful. Why toss the veggies? They have been spent. They have been cooked for so long and their flavour and nutrients absorbed into the stock. I sometimes do mash them on the side for a lunch when making the soup, but if I want veggies in the soup, add fresh ones. I do agree with you that they taste great in the soup, though over cooked, but then, the clarity of the flavour of the broth is muddied. So, really, it is simply an individual preference thing. I do hate throwing anything out, I must say, but the vegetables used in a soup stock are about the only food I can justify… and even then, often eat it on the side. :)
      Valerie

  28. This looks amazing! And this is from someone who has never had oxtail! Lol I discovered it several years ago but had no idea how to prepare it. I can’t wait to try this. Once it cools down here in sunny *twitch twitch* California, that is. My only question is, do you eat the bone to? I know some people will simmer bones in soup so long that they turn to mush so that the can eat them. I think I may have to draw the line at that though… Thanks for the recipe!

    • Valerie Lugonja says:

      Hi, Traci,
      I love oxtail and use it to make many concoctions, the easiest is soup. If you like neck meat on a turkey, you get the idea. It is succulent, moist, and exceedingly flavourful meat. No, you don’t eat the bone, but the gelee around the bone is delicious and some do love to suck them, though I admittedly find that off putting, and do it only in private.
      Can’t wait to hear how it goes! Thanks for the human connection! :)
      Valerie

  29. I am Jamaican and we make stewed ox tail and ox tail soup! I am so pleased to see that eating ox tail is not a “Jamaican” thing! I will also share this with my North American friends who think it’s disgusting and no one else consumes this! Thank you for sharing this!!

    • Valerie Lugonja says:

      Not in Alberta,at least! It is delicious and not so foreign to farm families. How different is your soup recipe than mine? What else do you do with it?
      Love it! :)
      Thanks, Carl!
      Valerie

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