Ox Bone Soup (seolleongtang -설렁탕)
Updated: Aug 8, 2020
Honestly it feels a little silly to be writing a food blog with everything that's going on, but I suppose that we all need something to escape to.
This is my FAVORITE Korean recipe. It's cured many-a hangover and its simplicity is its strength. When people were racing to stockpile paper products, and clearing shelves of pasta, I grabbed beef bones. A few pounds of bones can make gallons of soup that you can freeze for later, or use in other recipes. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a midnight snack. Entire restaurants are devoted to only serving this one, spectacular dish. It's- So-Good.
I think this was my gateway into Korean cooking. I loved this soup so much and my wife wouldn't make it because it was too much work. Being impatient, I decided to just do it myself.
As always, everyone's got their own technique, but the gist is boiling beef bones for hours and hours and hours. There's not really much magic beyond that. The first few times I made seolleongtang I used only oxtail, but you get more flavor and more boils if you mix different bone types. I have found that oxtail, combined with leg or knee bones makes for a better broth. I look for bones that have a lot of marrow.
You should know a few things:
Beef bones are expensive. They used to be the trash part of the cow, but now they're easy to get and pricey. However, $30 bucks on bones will feed you for a long time. I think we figured it to work out to be like $5 per meal to feed our family of 5. It's worth it.
Your kitchen will be a mess and you will need several stock pots, bowls, and a fat skimming device if you're going to attempt this. I only make it when I have a few days off and the kids are at school because, while it's not a lot of work, there are periods when your kitchen will look like this (I was too embarrassed to show the rest).
It will take you days. Making seolleongtang isn't difficult, and there's not a whole lot of active work, but you do have to monitor the boil during commercial breaks / between episodes. You have to skim fat, strain, reboil, let cool, repeat. I usually only get 2 boils in per day, if I'm lucky.
There are Instantpot versions, but I'm not sure if they seem any easier.
Serve it with kimchi - It's an unofficial requirement of the dish.
3-4 lbs of bones (I usually do one pack of oxtails and one pack of leg/shin bones)
2-3 yellow onions
coarse sea salt
somyeon (somen) noodles
(소면 (면 = m-yeon = noodles in Korean))
Rinse bones in cold water - there's a lot of gunk and bone fragments
Let bones soak in cold water for at least 30 minutes - empty water and rinse once more
Place bones in pot with enough water to cover them and do a hard boil for 5 minutes or so. This is a pre-boil that gets rid of some fat and gunk to keep your final broth clean
After 5 minutes or so, remove the bones from heat and pour the water out into a colander in your sink (you want to save the bones). Rinse the pot quickly to remove and residue / gunk.
Rinse the bones one more time and return to the pot
Add enough water to cover the bones.
Add an onion cut in quarters
Bring to a boil and lower heat to keep a steady boil/simmer
Let boil for 5+ hours - monitor to make sure you're not losing too much water. Add water if necessary to keep bones covered. I usually keep the lid 2/3 on
After 5 hours, remove from heat.
Pour contents of pot through a strainer into a large bowl or another pot.
12. Let it cool to room temp and place in fridge. Once fat hardens, remove it with a slotted spoon. The first batch usually has the most fat.
13. Return the bones to the empty pot and re-fill with new water and repeat the process.
14. During the second or third boil, add a flank steak to the pot (after soaking it for 30 minutes in cold water). You just want this to cook until it's done (15 minutes maybe). Remove flank steak after it's cooked and put aside to cool.
15. After 4 boils, you've probably gotten all that you can get out of the bones (most people seem to only do 3) - At this point I combine all of my batches (usually in separate bowls/pots) into one BIG pot for a last boil. The pot below is 5 gallons and is a little over half full.
Store what you're not going to eat right away in plastic containers / freezer bags and freeze for later. It's a quick meal and the broth will work in other soups like ricecake soup.
You can really eat seolleongtang at any stage in the process. We had two or three meals out of this batch while it was still cooking.
Put cooked somyeon noodles in a bowl
Add broth and shredded flank steak (and oxtail meat if there's any)
Everyone likes seolleongtang differently, so on the table place salt, pepper, and green onions for people to add themselves.
The flavor you're looking for is slightly salty - add salt a little at a time until the broth tastes like something (on its own, it has almost no flavor).
Serve with kimchi
You'll end your meal feeling refreshed, full, and happy.