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What Is Oxtail Soup?

Anise is often used to flavor oxtail soup.
Oxtail soup is not generally made with the tail of an ox.
The French version of oxtail soup originated during the French Revolution.
The only meat in oxtail soup comes from cattle or a cow.
Oxtail can be available pre-cut in large pieces.
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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2014
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An oxtail soup is a thick soup dish that contains as the primary ingredient the tail of a cattle or a cow, instead of an ox, as the name suggests. The soup does not use any other cuts of beef or other types of meat to flavor it. Cooking the soup may take a long time, as the gelatinous tail requires a long period of boiling or simmering to soften it up. Oxtail soup is so popular and tasty that there are many versions of it in some Asian, European, and South American countries. Some of the more popular versions would be the Chinese, French, and British oxtail soups.

There are some uncertainties regarding the origin of the oxtail soup, but some accounts say that the French version of the soup was created in the French Revolution, when the political turmoil resulted in much widespread poverty felt by the French people, including the nobles and the aristocrats. During the period, the tails were not removed from the cowhides that were sent to tanneries from slaughterhouses. One day, a noble Frenchman, probably in search of cheap food, requested a discarded tail and started a food trend by making a soup from it. Tanneries took advantage of the dish’s popularity by selling tails, instead of giving it away for free. The popularity of the soup soon spread in England when many French people migrated there.

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In the US, the oxtail soup was probably created when slavery was rampant. Resourceful African slaves coped with their lack of wealth by creating dishes made out of discarded animal parts deemed “useless,” such as tongue, intestines, ears, and tails. As for the Chinese version of the soup, using a cow’s tail for the dish may not be as unexpected, as the Chinese have a long-standing tradition of not wasting anything that can still have some use.

Oxtails are usually available in meat shops, sold by the pound and are already pre-cut in large pieces. Cooking the oxtail soup would usually begin with boiling the oxtail until tender, along with some garlic, onion, and pepper for seasoning. Other spices include star anise and ginger, especially if the Chinese version is being cooked. An indicator that the oxtails are soft enough is when the meat can be pried off the bone without much effort.

Once the oxtails are tender, sliced vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and celery stalks are added in the pot. Other ingredients can include mushrooms, leeks, and parsley. Some recipes also use a little tomato paste and cooking wine to give the soup more flavor and a richer consistency. Oxtail soup is best served warm.

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