{奶奶的牛尾湯} Grandma’s Oxtail Soup

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Going to a college located halfway across the country eliminates worries of demands to return home every weekend, of surprise visits from parents every other weekend, and of giving (sometimes fabricated) excuses of being bogged down with homework and tests. However, it does cause the occasional wave of homesickness to wash over me, whether it be in the form of craving my grandmother’s soup when I’m ill, or of needing to hear my mother’s firm, practical logic when I’m overwhelmed by a particularly nasty obstacle life had just hurled at me. Despite this, a funny phenomena happens each time I’m about to go home for a break. As it draws nearer, I find myself not wanting to return home, where overprotective parents slather on rules and “talks” as thickly as the peanut butter I put on celery for a “healthy” snack. When I grudgingly step off the airplane, however, my reluctance and worries promptly evaporate, not leaving a single drop behind. Instead, the presence of the people I love and who love me reaches out to encircle me, providing a temporary haven from the outside world. By the time break ends, I dread breaking away from this bubble of warmth and love and the inevitable return of the worries and frantic pace of college life. But break away I must.

This winter break, I came back to Atlanta early to work. Back in my apartment and anxiously awaiting to hear back from medical schools, I found myself wishing for a taste of home. Immediately, my grandma’s ox-tail soup came to mind. I promptly drove to an Asian supermarket and called her for the recipe. Happily surprised, my 奶奶 (grandmother) led me through the steps to recreate the soup. Comforting and light, it simmers away for hours to develop deep, complex flavors without being heavy. Tomatoes and onions lend a hint of sweetness while ginger gives a teeny kick in the background. Bites of tender chunks of beef and rich, creamy potatoes - this is my “chicken noodle soup.” 

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Completely cover the oxtails in water and bring it up to a boil. A layer of grayish-brown foam (denatured sarcoplasmic proteins dissolved in water) will form at the top. By boiling the oxtails before adding them to the soup, you don’t have to worry about trying to skim released proteins from the entire pot of soup.

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In cooking, baking, science labs, and any other task that involves a procedure of sorts, it’s always best to finish mise en place before beginning. French and literally translated as “to put in place,” it’s a culinary term for having all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go. Trust me, it will make your life so much easier. You don’t want to be sautéing some garlic, see on the recipe “add onions,” and suddenly realize, oh no, I haven’t chopped the onions yet!

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Speaking of onions, this soup calls for one roughly sliced onion. My roommate has a rather bizarre, but strong, aversion to onions, green onions, and ginger, the foundations of Asian (and many other cultures’) cuisines. This soup calls for two of the items on her absolute-no-no list of three, but thankfully, she hadn’t come back from break yet. Phew.

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Like many of you, I’m sure, I find it’s so difficult, sometimes, to be able to spend an hour or two in the kitchen to put together a meal. Thus, I love recipes where you can simply let the dish simmer away for hours, like this soup. Just let it do its own thing for a bit (of course, if it’s on the stove and not in a slow-cooker, stick around so you’ll still have a house to eat dinner in and not a pile of ashes). When you come back, you’ll have a soulful, hearty dish ready to be devoured.

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Shh. Don’t tell my grandma, but I added my own little spin on her recipe. I couldn’t resist adding a splash (or two, or three ;)) of sake to the soup. I find that sake adds a wonderful flavor to dishes. It’s hard to describe, but it imparts a subtle sweetness. The sake is completely optional – if you’re feeling adventurous, try it out. If not, don’t worry about it! The soup tastes just as delicious without it.

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Cover the pot and let the soup do its magic. The results will be a lovely soup packed full of nutrients and flavor. Serve as is for a light meal or for a hearty finish to a meal, or serve over rice. I hope you enjoy it!

{奶奶的牛尾湯} Grandma’s Oxtail Soup Recipe
Ingredients
1-2 lbs of oxtails
1 large onion, roughly sliced
5 roma tomatoes, cut into large chunks
5 red-skinned potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 stalk of celery, roughly chopped
5-8 slices of ginger
Sake (optional)

Directions
1. In a separate pot, completely cover the oxtails with water and bring to a boil. Let it boil for a couple of minutes and take it off the heat. Rinse the oxtails under cold water to wash off the layer of foam and set aside.
2. Sauté the sliced onions with a little bit of olive oil in a pot. Once translucent, add the ginger and celery. Sauté together for another minute or two.
3. Add the tomatoes, potatoes, and oxtails. Add a couple splashes of sake (optional!) and fill up the pot with water.
4. Bring the soup to a boil and turn the heat down to low. Cover and let simmer until the oxtails are tender, most likely three to four hours. Salt to taste and enjoy.

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