This rich oxtail soup is peppery with spicy aromas of
ginger, star anise, cinnamon and cloves.
It’s one of my all time favourites
and especially heart-warming in the cold winter months.
I was perhaps ten years old when I first tasted Indonesian style oxtail soup dining out with my family in Malaysia. The Ship restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, was one of the first western style restaurants in the city back in the 1970’s.
Being a theme restaurant, its entrance resembles the bow of a ship sticking out onto the street front and wait staff are dressed in maritime uniform. And after so many decades, this restaurant has retained its retro decor and expanded to a fleet of seven “ships” located all over Malaysia. A peak of its current menu, I am chuffed to see the same Indonesian oxtail soup still being served though I wonder if it still tastes as good.
I have always wanted to try and replicate this spicy and peppery oxtail soup that packs so much more oomph compared to an English style oxtail stew. But there are literally hundreds of different recipes and I wanted non other than the exact taste and flavour that I remember from so many years ago.
As Walt Disney once said, “if you can dream it, you can do it.”
Indonesian Oxtail Soup
Fresh oxtail is usually available in supermarkets and local butchers at the start of autumn. It is a relatively inexpensive cut of meat at $8.99 per kilogram.
In Malaysia, oxtail soup is called sup ekor by street food hawkers where “ekor” means tail in Bahasa. This makes more sense to me than it being called sup buntut in Indonesia because “buntut” in Bahasa refers to the posterior of one’s body.
These two Bahasa terms might be interchangeable if you happen to be in Indonesia but you might get a weird reception from local street hawkers if you request for sup buntut in Kuala Lumpur.
I use only a small amount of oil in a cast iron pot to sear and brown the oxtail.
This step allows the fat to render and the brown layer of caramelization at the bottom of the pot becomes intense with beefy goodness when deglazed with a ladle of beef stock. It also adds to the rich dark brown colour when the soup is ready to be served.
There are essentially two styles of Indonesian oxtail soup.
More commonly cooked in households is the light and clear style with oxtail and chunky pieces of tomato, carrot and potato.
This recipe is a thick and creamy style where aromatic vegetables like onions and ginger together with carrots, tomatoes and potato are processed with a hand blender until it becomes a smooth puree. This thick puree is then combined with broth from simmering the oxtail for a creamy soup with intense beef flavours. Spices like cinnamon, cloves and star anise give this soup its distinctive aromatics.
- 1.5 – 2kg fresh oxtail
- 2 – 3 large carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 large brown onion, finely diced
- 1 large chat washed potato, finely diced
- 1 large knob of ginger, finely diced
- 1 large bunch of coriander, stalks and roots removed and retained
- 1 can of peeled tomatoes
- 500ml of beef stock
- 8 cloves, 4 whole star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 tablespoon white peppercorn pounded until almost powdery. Then put all these spices into a spice bag with coriander roots and stalks.
- 3 tablespoon cooking oil
- Salt to taste
- Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and heat until slightly smoking, then sear oxtails on all sides until brown.
- Then add 2 litres of water to the oxtail and simmer in low heat for approximately two hours, occasionally skimming off scum and fat that accumulates at the top.
- After about an hour, insert the spice bag to simmer together with the oxtail until they become soft and slightly yielding from the bone. Turn off heat and skim off any remaining fat.
- Oxtail broth can be prepared the day before. Once cooled, put entire pot in the fridge and the coagulated fat can be easily skimmed off the top the next day.
- The oxtail meat needs to be gently simmered until they are falling off the bone.
- Use peeled tomatoes from a can for this recipe as they impart more flavour than fresh tomatoes.
- Crispy deep fried eschallots is an essential garnish for this oxtail soup and the recipe can be found here.
- Finely diced shallots can be added as garnish to complement the deep fried eschallots and coriander leaves.
- This soup can be accompanied by warm, buttered dinner rolls (my preference) or steamed rice.
Vegetables and aromatics
- Simultaneously as the oxtail is simmering, sautee onion and ginger in another pot with 2 tablespoon of oil and a few pinches of salt and white pepper until fragrant and onions are soft.
- Then add carrots, potato and the can of peeled tomatoes, stirring for about 10 minutes until all the vegetables are mixed together.
- Pour in beef stock and simmer on low heat for about an hour until carrots are soft.
- Process the vegetables with a hand blender until it becomes a thick puree.
- Add the chunks of oxtail to the puree and progressively ladle the oxtail broth into the pureed vegetables to the consistency that you like.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Ladle soup and oxtail into soup bowl, garnish with crispy deep fried eschallots and coriander leaves.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The creamy style is better suited for the cooler months of autumn and winter while I prefer the clear broth style during spring and summer.
Texture test ~ When cooking, the oxtail meat needs to be gently simmered until they are falling off the bone.
And your guests need to return a bowl like this – only bones and knuckle caps remaining as the ultimate seal of approval.
This rich and gritty Indonesian oxtail soup brings fond memories to me.
Enjoy and happy cooking!