Oxtail Soup – Kkorigomtang



If there is a dish that defined the start of my passion for cooking as a young child, Kkorigomtang is the dish.  Oxtail soup was and still is one of my favorite comfort foods of all time.  And the secret to making a beautiful pot of this soup is the care involved in correctly preparing the oxtails for the soup.  I like to joke about how my mother was a terrible cook when I was growing up, and well…even she will admit that cooking is not one of her strong suits, but like all Korean mothers, she would take the time to cook some of my favorite dishes for me when I was sick, or if I had done well in school, or when I would come back to Chicago after spending the summer months in Toronto with my aunt and cousins.  Now here’s the catch…she would usually make me Kkorigomtang as a welcome home dinner, but after spending weeks eating my aunt’s version of the very same soup I realized something was up.  These were not the same soups!

My aunt was notorious for being the best cook in our family.  Everything she cooked was delicious, whether it was a simple bowl of rice with egg and seaweed or a fancy korean banquet for family gatherings.   When she would whip up a pot of oxtail soup, the broth would be a rich creamy white, the meat sweet and tender and literally falling off the bones and she would serve it with a bowl of spicy and crisp home made kkakdugi (radish kimchi).  My mother’s version was generally a murky yellowish broth and the meat, while tender, would have a slight metallic taste.  So what was up? My young mind needed to know how two people could cook the same soup and have such different end results.   From then on my visits to Toronto was always filled with days in the kitchen peppering my aunt with questions. Watching how she could transform simple ingredients into beautiful dishes full of fragrance and flavor.  She cooked with all her love and generosity and you could taste it on the plate.   I miss and think about her every time I’m in the kitchen and suspect that she would have been tickled pink to see me making kimchi and cooking up some of her best recipes. So here’s how she taught me to make oxtail soup.  If you want my mom’s childhood version- buy the oxtails, throw them into a pot with some water and let it boil away…..I hope you’ll follow the directions below! (Even my mother has amended her errant ways and now cooks Kkorigomtang the “proper” way 😉 )

side note:  My picture above really does no justice to this dish.  What can I say, I am no photographer…I also am not a good patient blogger who takes photos in between the steps.  Sorry folks!  One of these days I will get my act together. 😉  But hopefully the recipe will suffice and inspire you to make what I consider one of the greatest, simplest and most delicious dishes of all time!  

Kkorigomtang – Korean Oxtail Soup

firstly, let me start and say that exact measurements have never been my strong point, but this is a very forgiving soup so as long as you follow the basic instructions, you’ll be fine!


5-6 good sized oxtails*

1 onion, quartered

3-4 garlic cloves, sliced

toasted sesame seeds & minced green onions for garnish

salt & pepper

*make sure you get fresh oxtails from a younger or at least youngish animal.  If the fat and collagen around the meat looks very yellow and the meat has a bluish, purply tint rather than bright red…back away from the counter…these are not the oxtails you are looking for, I repeat, back away from the counter!  Believe me, after having been a little blasé about buying some oxtails that came from.. ahem..the geriatric cow set, because, why not…it’s just going into a soup.  I mean soup chickens are old birds too.  Just don’t do it.   Get the freshest, reddest, least fattiest set of oxtails you can find.

Now you’ve got your oxtails, so to make a foolproof broth, we need to prep those puppies accordingly.  First, trim away any excess fat.  I find the oxtails I get in the US have considerable less fat on them than the ones I find in Berlin. Now before anyone makes any jokes about US cows getting liposuction,  I am fairly certain the Korean butchers in the US take the time to butcher away all the fat and gristle because they know their customers….Angry korean ahjumas complaining about fatty oxtails is not something you want to willingly subject yourself to!  (And oxtails in general are not something you will find in the normal American grocery store.  Now at a hipster gourmet store…oxtails will abound- at about 3 times the cost at the Korean market!)  In Berlin, I usually only find oxtails with any regularity at Turkish butchers and they are usually covered with a healthy coating of fat, but I find most cuts of meat here are more fatty in general- well, at least less trimmed away than the American equivalents.  I could get into theoretical discussions about the whys and wherefores…but that will have to be for another discussion.

So oxtails!   Let your gorgeous oxtails soak in a bowl of cold water for at least 1 hour to draw out some of the blood.  If you’re in a hurry, 1 soak will do.  If you’re hardcore, give it another soak for another hour to draw out even more blood and change the water a few times during each soaking period.  The key to the creamy white broth is getting out all the blood from the meat and bones.

While the oxtails are finishing up soaking, grab your biggest stock pot and fill it midway with water and bring it to a boil.  Rinse off the oxtails and drop carefully into the boiling water.  Boil for 20-25 minutes to blanch away any residual blood and impurities that are still in the meat, then carefully drain the oxtails and rinse under cold water to remove any last bits of gristle.    Wash out the stock pot, put in the oxtails and refill to the top with fresh COLD water. (I know cooks like to use hot water from the tap to save time for boiling, but I usually am adverse to this because hot water has higher levels of lead that leaches from the pipes, so keep it cold folks).

Now you just need to let the soup come to a boil, then cover with a lid, lower the heat and keep it on an even simmer for the next 4-6 hours.  Occasionally skim off any brown scum that rises to the surface.  After about 3 hours of simmering put the onion and garlic into the pot.  Eventually the broth will reduce in half, and the meat will literally start to fall off the bones.  This is when the soup is done.   (If you find the broth is reducing too quickly, add more water and reduce the heat even more.)   If you’re hungry, you can ladle yourself a bowl of soup and an oxtail and start slurping away.  If you are a purist, put the stockpot into the fridge.  Let the broth cool until all the fat has formed a thin disc on top.  Scrape away the fat, then reheat and serve.  I don’t know why, but Korean soups usually have no fat, just pure broth.  Some of my German students in my cooking classes found this strange because they equated fat with flavor.  While fat is flavor, I guess in Korea, we eat our fats in different forms and animal fat is not a huge component in the daily diet.  Also, the different soups are usually so pure and flavorful you don’t really miss the fat!

Serve the oxtails in a large bowl with a generous amount of broth.  Salt and pepper to taste.*  Seasoning is something that is left to each individual, which is why most Korean soups are cooked without any salt and you will find bowls of sea salt on the dining table.   Garnish each bowl with some toasted sesame and chopped spring onions and serve with a bowl of rice and some kimchi!   This soup is great for nursing a hangover, or when you’re feeling blue, hungry, tired, cold…and like my other bone broth recipe, this is bone broth at it’s best!

*I would suggest you season the soup per serving.  This recipe will make quite a large amount of soup and if you season the entire pot it will get saltier as you reheat it.  This soup also stores extremely well.  You can freeze individual servings and enjoy for later.  





kochen in kopenhagen

return of the vikings?

I just spent a long weekend in Copenhagen and decided to take the opportunity to try out social experiment number 2.

Random cooking of Korean deliciousness in a stranger’s apartment.

I was going to Copenhagen to partake in a friend’s wedding festivities, and since Copenhagen is notoriously expensive, decided to couchsurf.  For those unfamiliar with couchsurfing, it’s an amazing way to keep traveling affordable, as well as a great way to meet interesting new people.  Anyone willing to let a stranger stay with them is crazy in a way I can relate to!  (www.couchsurfing.com)

I threw out a few feelers for surfable couches and was…rejected!  What can I say, sometimes even a fräulein gets turned down, but soon enough,  I was “accepted” by a few friendly couches and had a secured place to stay in a very nice apartment in the Vestebro (*side note- let me just say Danish people have good taste!)

So normally, as a thank you gesture for the kind souls who take me into their homes, I’ve been known to cook a meal or two…this time I decided to take it a step further.  I invited myself into the home of a random couchsurfer who had to “reject” my request due to coinciding travel dates.  He seemed genuinely bummed to miss out on a chance for Korean essen, as evident by his email:

“I have a recurrent dream: I’m in a big city, and all of a sudden I remember this wonderful neighbourhood where they have Korean food and I will go looking for it. I have dreamt that at least 10 times.”

so I decided, what the hell…I was staying an extra night in Copenhagen, have chili, will travel. The poor boy was clearly going through kimchi withdrawal, so I offered to come over and show him some basics of Korean food.  I brought along my very hospitable couchsurfing host and momentarily invaded the home of a Danish filmmaker and his Norwegian girlfriend with my dried seaweed, kochugaru, sesame seeds and dried anchovies.  The kitchen was “cosy” so it turned out to be a little too small for a real teaching session, but I put my new Danish friends to work chopping onions and peeling garlic.  An hour later we sat down to dinner. Guten appetit!

fishheads, fishheads, eat 'em up, yum!

On the Menu was:

Bulgogi with shitake mushrooms

Miyook-guk – a seaweed soup

Oi-moochim- spicy cucumber salad

Seaweed salad

Myulchibokkeum- dried anchovies (usually my American friends recoil in horror at these tiny fried bits of strange crunchy fishy sweetness, but a country that eats pickled herring apparently also liked dried fishiness ; )

Saenggang Cha- ginger cinnamon tea with pine nuts

It ended up being a great evening with good food and camaraderie.  I introduced the leckericiousness of Korean food to 3 kimchi virgins and was reminded of why it is the fräulein loves the kitchen.  The nicest compliment I think I’ve ever been given about my cooking was when at the end of the evening I was told- “you are making the world a better place.”….did I mention again that I like the Danish?

the table is set

and of course my trip wouldn’t have been complete without trying the smørrebrød.  My friend Idil took me to a cool cafe where they served up some slamming versions of smørrebrød…tee hee, somehow that word just really makes me giggle.  I went for the typisch Dansk- potato version of their daily smørrebrød.  delish.

kartoffelnsmørrebrød- don't even think about it if you're on a low carb diet!

“How I learned to be a proper Korean wife” or….Kimchi 101

It all started with a craving.  Living in Germany for once in my life I was not without easily accessible quantities of kimchi.  This in and of itself was a serious hardship, but more alarming was that without kimchi, I couldn’t make – kimchi chigae.  Comfort food is a strange thing.  To some it’s mac & cheese or mashed potatoes.  The taste of home comes in a variety of packages.  For my German roommate it was spaghetti with butter and ketchup.  Comfort for me came wrapped up in the biggest clash of culinary sensibilities: a steaming, deliciously pungent bowl of kimchi chigae  and a Big Mac.

Food associations are strong and unshakable, as the brilliant marketers for good old McDonalds can attest.  As any one of my friends back in L.A. would confirm, I am not someone who has willingly eaten from the golden arches in years.  My organic, home-made, farmer’s market loving nature had some serious issues with the kind of processed garbage that Ronald McDonald thankfully was no longer super sizing, but thousands of miles from “home,” lost in a bewildering foreign land without strong social networks or close friends and having seriously OD’d on the notion of Abendbrot (I could not eat any more slices of schwarzbrot, cheese & wurst with the prerequisite cut up cucumber!), Ronald became a reminder of pleasant childhood memories.  Happy meals eaten during school field trips, deep fried apple pies and caramel sundaes, packages of the Hamburglar cookies…remember those?  Big Macs were a special treat not often allowed by my notoriously health conscious mother and they are still imbedded in some far recess of my brain to trigger inexplicable feelings of warmth and security desperately needed that first long winter spent alone in Deutschland.

It’s the same way I feel about kimchi chigae.  Call it my identity split.  My American side sometimes just needs a dose of that “special sauce” in the same way the Korean gal in me needs her kimchi chigae.  But although those cravings for Big Macs eventually dissipated as I acclimated to my new life situation, the desire for kimchi chigae refused to die.  It was always my favorite meal growing up.  So odoriferous my mother cooked it in the garage, the pungent fumes drifting out towards the sidewalk would make my American friends curl their noses in dismay…was that a dead animal in our garage?  I’d pretend I didn’t hear them and for once be back home right on time for dinner.

So, what was a girl to do?  The question of a Big Mac was easily solved.   Globalization makes it possible to find a McDonalds anytime you’re jonesing for the crap they offer, (I will concede that sometimes a fresh batch of their fries with ketchup is just…dare I say, deelish?) The kimchi chigae though, now that posed a big problem.  The few Korean establishments I’d found in Berlin rarely offered it, and when they did, it was a watered down, tasteless version lacking any of the penetrating zing of a proper chigae.  This was seriously unacceptable.  There was only one thing to do…make my own.

Since the only way to make a proper kimchi chigae is to first have suitably fermented kimchi, it meant that I needed to start from the very beginning, a very good place to start.  This fräulein needed to make herself some kimchi!  Now that was something I’d never needed to make before.  Why bother when a huge bottle could be had 24-7 at several large Korean markets in L.A. or a homemade version could be pinched off of my aunt or mother. Once I had an available amount, I’d just whip myself a batch of chigae once the cabbage had gotten a little too salacious for normal ingestion.  The precise timing in which to make the perfect chigae from fermented kimchi could be an art in and of itself.  A fresh batch of kimchi just doesn’t have the right toe curling power, but wait until it’s gone too far and even a blowhard has a hard time digesting the sour, spicy mass. It’s reached proper maturation when you open a jar and the ensuing odor makes your eyes smart just a tiny leeetle bit and you’re not sure if it’s the  kimchi or  if you just passed gas.

Missing Korean food was not something I had accounted for when moving to Berlin.  Sure it was something I ate back in L.A., but to be honest, I took it for granted.  I could eat it whenever I wanted, so why bother eating it all the time?  Those first endlessly grey months in Germany,  I would rue the day I ever casually drove past a BCD Tofu House.  My yearly visits back home now are filled with days of Korean bbq; accelerating inhalations of suhlung tang, daenjang chigae, kimbap, yookgejang, soon dubu, tansooyeuk, until my pants get uncomfortably snug and I consider slowing down consumption, only to think about the months and months of deprivation ahead and say- fuck it! and undo the button imprinting itself onto my increasing belly.   Ahhh mah-shee-da!

So there was only one thing to do.  I gave my mother a heart attack by asking her to teach me how to make kimchi my first visit back to the States.  “Have you met a good Korean man?” were the first words out of her mouth.  Apparently, the only thing that could possibly motivate me to want to make kimchi was in preparation of being a good Korean wife…*eye roll*… I had to set the record straight. (do you KNOW what its like dating in Germany where the notion of flirting is asking you how you made the gravy after waiting 3 months before even thinking about asking you on a date?!?! )  She tried to hide her disappointment, but chirked up with the idea that by teaching me kimchi, perhaps…perhaps…it would improve my chances of finding the perfect Korean doctor, lawyer or supremely successful business man, or if need be and under extreme duress (since I wasn’t getting any younger ; )) settling for the notion of a non-Korean, albeit only a non-Korean doctor, lawyer, or even more supremely successful business man, and as long as they were only white non-Korean men, preferably American because Europeans always have mistresses according to her friend who lived in Paris….Chinese was acceptable too, but under no circumstances Japanese!

Since getting into my color blind international dating choices would have given her a serious ulcer if not a real heart attack, we just moved onto the kimchi tutorial.  Now there are as many varieties of kimchi as there are types of bread in Germany, whether you crave mouth burning fierceness or just a touch of the piquant, to cool summertime refreshing.  Everyone will probably tell you their mother’s version is the best, and who am I to argue…it probably is.  Something that gets served with pretty much every meal, every Korean child has eaten kimchi from the moment they can handle solid food.  My mother would wash a piece off in a glass of water and cut it up into our rice porridge.  I think by the time I was 5 I stopped “washing” my kimchi and just ate it straight up from the jar.  The mouth of fire has had a long time to germinate!

This is my version of a basic nappa cabbage kimchi, tweaked after years of living in Berlin and also dealing with busy people and busy schedules that may not have the energy or time to do something 100% “traditional.”  I think cooking is a fluid representation of where and when you live and being in Germany has obviously presented some obstacles.  Ingredients are not always easily come by and sometimes impossible to find, so Fräulein Kimchi’s approach is to find what works in the environment you’re living in.  There are no rules!

Fräulein Kimchi’s Kimchi recipe, to be used liberally as you please.

1 Nappa Cabbage (Chinakohl),

chinakohl at a street market
chinakohl sold on the streets

cut into small pieces (I usually cut it into about 2”x 2” slices, but whatever size you want is fine)

2 carrots julienned

2 bunches of green onions, cut into about 2” strips

1 or 2 apples, peeled and thinly sliced (*optional- I like to add apples which adds a nice crisp contrast to the cabbage, but this is not a really “traditional” ingredient so be prepared to face the ire of some die hard Koreans who may eat your kimchi. Just send them to Fräulein Kimchi if they give you any cheek)

1/2 daikon radish, peeled and sliced into thin rounds and then quartered (I prefer to use the Korean radish, which is called “mu”and has a spicier taste than daikon, but it’s not available in Germany…yet)

freshly minced garlic

Garlic, 6-7 cloves, peeled and crushed

Ginger, 1 tablespoon finely minced

Sea salt, 2-5 tablespoons per cabbage (my aunt swears that the type of salt you use influences the taste of the kimchi.  Don’t use the super high end gourmet sea salt though since you will need a lot of salt.  Large bags of sea salt can usually be found fairly cheaply at most asian markets)

Korean chili powder “Kochugaru”  (while it’s best to use Korean chili powder, if it’s not available in your area, you “can” use a different kind of chili powder.

kochugaru at it's finest
kochugaru at it’s finest

Be sure to experiment with amounts though, as Korean chili powder has a more mellow heat to it that necessitates using quite a bit when making kimchi.  Other chili powders may pack more heat so take caution! Also, its best if you use Korean chili powder that has been produced in Korea and not China.  Look for a package that has a bright red color to it, which signifies freshness.  If it’s made in China and is neon bright though, it’s probably been dyed synthetically! Avoid!  To maintain freshness of the chili powder, keep it in your freezer).

Fish sauce, about 2-3 tablespoons (For the best flavor I suggest you don’t buy the Thai anchovy fish sauces, but a Korean version.  It’s called Sand Lance Sauce.  This is also something you should add to your taste.  More fish sauce will give it a stronger flavor so see what you prefer.  To be super hardcore traditional, use the tiny salted shrimps that come in a jar.  So far its been impossible for me to find in Germany, but easily found in Korean supermarkets in America)

Pair of plastic gloves

directions: In a large bowl heavily salt the cabbage pieces. For a large cabbage it will take about 4-5 tablespoons, for a smaller one 3-4.  Let it sit for a minimum of an hour and up to anywhere from 2-3 hours.  The longer it stays in the salt, the more the cabbage breaks down and releases its water.  It also absorbs more salt and gets saltier, so experiment and see which texture and seasoning you prefer.  If you use a whole cabbage without cutting it up  then it needs to salt overnight. (This is the traditional way of making kimchi, but also requires much larger jars which aren’t easily come by in Berlin.  Its also more of a mess to cut up and serve once its fermented)

Wash off the salt from the cabbage and squeeze it dry.  Taste a piece; it should be slightly salty.  Place the cabbage in a large bowl and add the garlic, ginger, carrots, apples and radish.   Add the kochugaru a bit at a time. This is to your taste, the more kochugaru you use, the spicier it will be.  Add the fish sauce and green onions and mix thoroughly with your hands (make sure to wear the plastic gloves if you don’t want your hands reeking of garlic and fish for days!)  The final mixture shouldn’t be too dry, the chili powder should start to expand slightly from the moisture.  If it seems too dry once you’ve added all the ingredients, then you can add a tiny bit of water to loosen it up.

Gather some clean empty jars and start to bottle.  As you spoon in the fresh kimchi make sure you press it down firmly into the bottom of the jar.  There should be no space or air between the layers and a little bit of liquid at the top of the jar just covering the cabbage.  Leave some space on top as the kimchi will expand and create more liquid as it starts to ferment (packing the kimchi too tightly to the top of the lid can create a juicy, smelly explosion when you first try to open it).

Leave a jar out on the counter so that you can eat it within a day or two.  The rest of the jars will last for weeks if not months if properly stored in the fridge.  After a few weeks have gone by and the kimchi has gone sour…it’s time to make some chigae!

Some pictures of the finished product as I found them in Korea…enjoy!

traditional ceramic urns where kimchi would be stored for months
the richer you were, the larger the urns..these humongoids were found next to the house of a rich yangban