Chinese Oxtail Soup

5 from 1 vote
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The ultimate comforting oxtail soup features beef that falls off the bone, rich tomato broth, and tender cabbage & potato. {gluten-free}

Gluten Free | One Pot Dinner | Vegetables | Winter Warmer | Comfort Food

This tomato-based oxtail soup is a family tradition. It originates from the Russian-style oxtail soup from Moscow Restaurant, one of the earliest foreign restaurants in Beijing. Opened in 1954, its French-influenced Russian food was the only Western food known to local people, and was unimaginably expensive. Only a small circle of elites could afford it: in the late 70s, it cost around an eighth to a tenth of a person’s monthly income to have dinner there.

When I was a kid, before McDonald’s and KFC opened up their chains, my parents introduced “Western” food to me and took me to enjoy the food at Moscow Restaurant a few times a year. Just like homemade noodles and fried rice, the Russian-style oxtail soup is such a comfort food for me. I still cook it every winter since moving to Austin, Texas, despite the fact that winter here doesn’t last more than 2 months and the temperature rarely drops under 50 F!

Gluten Free | One Pot Dinner | Vegetables | Winter Warmer | Comfort Food

My mom created this oxtail soup recipe with slight alterations. She skipped the beetroot in the traditional borscht because it’s quite difficult to find in Beijing. Extra ginger was added to bring out the aroma from the beef. When I started making this dish in the US, I made a few more tweaks influenced by French cuisine by sautéeing the vegetables and using canned tomatoes.

So here it is: a traditional Russian-style oxtail soup localized in China, then reinterpreted and transformed by two generations.

Gluten Free | One Pot Dinner | Vegetables | Winter Warmer | Comfort Food

Cooking notes

(1) It’s totally OK to cook without using a pressure cooker, but adds 2-3 hours of cooking time. Just follow the recipe below and keep simmering the oxtail until the meat becomes super tender, then proceed to step 4.

(2) Use water or beef broth? Back in Beijing, my mom always used water to make the beef stock from scratch. However, you can use beef broth in this recipe and yield a richer soup in less time.

(3) You can use half oxtail and half beef brisket if you want your soup to be meatier.

(4) If cooking without a pressure cooker, you can skip the sautéeing of the onions and carrots. Add them directly into the broth to simmer, because slowly simmering the beef broth in this way instead of using a pressure cooker will yield a richer, more flavorful soup.

(5) Why oxtail? Because the cut contains perfect amount of bone, bone marrow, connective tissue, lean meat and fat. It makes the soup sumptuously rich, the meat will become tender as butter and stay juicy after hours of simmering.

Chinese Oxtail Soup Cooking Process

Gluten Free | One Pot Dinner | Vegetables | Winter Warmer | Comfort Food

That’s it for the day! I hope you enjoy the dish, and remember to keep warm! 🙂

Need more comforting soup?

Check out classic egg drop soup, hot and sour soup, and napa cabbage and meatball soup. My family serves these dishes almost daily during winter!

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Chinese Oxtail Soup

5 from 1 vote
The ultimate comforting dish features beef that falls off the bone, rich tomato broth, and tender cabbage & potato. {gluten-free}
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 2 kg (4 to 5 lbs) oxtail , separated at joints
  • 8 cups beef stock (or water) (*Footnote 1)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 big onion , coarsely chopped
  • 4 carrots , chopped
  • 1 thumb ginger , sliced
  • 4 Yukon gold potatoes , chopped
  • 28 oz (800 g) tomato , diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 head cabbage , chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • Heavy cream sour cream, or plain Greek yogurt for garnish

Instructions

  • Add oxtail and water (or beef stock) in a big pot. Cook over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Turn to medium-low heat. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Skim any brown foam from the top of liquid.
  • Transfer oxtail to a high pressure cooker or Instant Pot using a pair of tongs. Transfer all the broth into the same pot. Cover and lock the lid. Turn on high pressure and set timer to 35 minutes. Once cooked, let it release pressure naturally.
  • The oxtail might leave a brown residue on the inside of the big pot you used to boil it. Wash the pot thoroughly before using in the following steps.
  • Remove the oxtail from the pot and transfer onto a large plate. Transfer the broth into an oil separator to remove extra fat. Alternatively you can let the broth sit for 10 minutes and skim the fat from the top with a ladle.
  • (Optional) To serve the oxtail without bones, let the oxtail cool until it’s possible to handle. Remove the meat from the bones and break the meat into bite size chunks with your fingers.
  • While waiting the oxtail to cool, heat the big pot (from step 1) with olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and carrot. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook and stir until the onion softens, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Transfer the beef broth and beef meat back to the big pot. Add ginger, potatoes, cabbage, canned tomato, tomato paste, bay leaves, sugar, salt and black pepper. Simmer for another 30 to 40 minutes (*Footnote 2), until the potato and cabbage become tender. Adjust seasoning by adding more salt, if necessary.
  • Transfer the soup into serving bowls, garnish with heavy cream or Greek yogurt and serve warm as a main.

Notes

  1. Using beef stock will yield a much richer soup. If using water, do not remove beef bones after cooking in the pressure cooker, and you may need to simmer the soup for a longer time (about 1 hour) to get a similarly flavor. In this case, add cabbage and potatoes after 30 minutes, so they won’t be overcooked.
  2. If you used water instead of beef stock, cook for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 hour 30 minutes to make the broth richer.
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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Elizabeth Chang says:

    How much water to use?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Elizabeth, I created this recipe long time ago and didn’t write down the accurate water measurement. Judging from the recipe, I’d say you need to use a 5-quart or 6-quart pot, add the oxtails, and fill in water to cover the oxtails by 1-inch.
      I’ll be making this recipe again soon and will make sure to measure the water this time.

  2. Matt K. says:

    Look great! Is it 1kg (~2.2lbs) or 4-5lb of oxtail?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Matt, 1kg is 2.2 lbs. If you have more oxtail you can simply double the recipe. The recipe is quite forgiven 🙂
      Happy cooking and hope your dish turns out great!

  3. Molly says:

    Is there a way to cook the oxtails without an instant pot or pressure cooker? I don’t have either, but the recipe looks delicious!

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Molly, you can simply simmer the oxtail instead of pressure cooking them. Although it will require quite some time, 1:30 minutes to 2 hours. The oxtail should turn tender, but not falling-off-the-bone tender yet. Then you can proceed to the rest of the recipe.
      Happy cooking and hope your soup turns out great 🙂

  4. Alfred Alarcon says:

    Hello Maggie, I was hope to cook this in a crock pot, how much time will it require about? Thank you , for I have been enjoying your recipes.

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Alfred, I think you need to cook it for 8 to 10 hours on low, because oxtail takes very long time to cook to tender.
      I’m glad to hear you like my recipes 🙂 Hope this dish turns out well for you as well. Happy cooking!

  5. Tiffany says:

    Hi Maggie,
    If not using a pressure cooker, should I add the raw carrot and onion with the other veggies in step 7?

    Thanks!
    Tiffany

  6. cici says:

    5 stars
    I will start by saying I LOVE ALL of your recipes. So amazing of a collection. So authentic to someone who grew up in China. And so accessible for people who didn’t have all of that growing up (speaking for my husband who is American but is the chef of the fam). So seriously, I am 110% your biggest fan. Thank you for keeping all these amazing traditions and recipes alive in our new blended family.

    On this, I wanted to ask and see if you guys might do an instant pot version! This oxtail soup is one of my favorite things growing up, but the time to stew it is a little prohibitive on our super busy schedules. Would love a quick & dirty on how you’d convert it to an instant pot!!! Much love to those recipes you guys have been posting lately, esp. in time for winter. (We’ve got the rough flank & daikon recipe in the instant pot as I write!).

    LOVE THIS BLOG!!! Keep it up for all of us loyal readers. 🙂

    • Maggie says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words Cici! This is one of my favorite dishes growing up and I’d be more than happy to develop an Instant Pot version. Stay tuned!

  7. Alicia says:

    Looks delicious! Recipe call for 28 oz can of tomatoes. Is that with or without the juice?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Alicia, it is with the juice. Happy cooking!

  8. Irene says:

    Mmm recipe sounds delicious. I want to make this but I’m just wondering about the amount of oxtail to use…. you say 1kg (about 4-5 lbs). But actually 1kg is equivalent to 2.2 lbs

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Irene, sorry for the confusion! I just updated the recipe with the correct information. I used 2kg (2.5 lbs) oxtails in my recipe.

  9. Sunny says:

    Can’t wait to try it! This is one of my favorites. I’m trying to re-create a version that I have at a nearby restaurant and this looks close. It has some spicy heat to it though. If I wanted to add spice what would you recommend?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Sunny, the soup itself is quite rich, so I think the easiest way is to add some cayenne or chili powder (dried spice or fresh peppers) into the soup.
      Happy cooking and can’t wait to hear your feedback!

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