Vietnamese-inspired oxtail soup recipe
As an O.G. diehard fan and evangelist of Red Boat Fish Sauce, I was naturally delighted to get my hands on a copy of The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook a few months ago. I’ve loved this family-run business for over a decade, and have had the pleasure of getting to know Cuong Pham and his family over the years. In fact, back in 2016, Henry and I were invited to Saigon and Phú Quốc Island to learn firsthand about Vietnamese cuisine and to visit the home of Red Boat Fish Sauce. We spent a week with the wonderful family behind Red Boat and got an up-close look at how my favorite fish sauce is made. You can listen to our podcast episode about our trip here.
What I love about The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook—besides the fact that every recipe showcases a novel way to use fish sauce—is that it’s such a personal collection of treasured family recipes. In particular, the Oxtail Soup recipe captured my attention right away because it’s super simple and a tried-and-true creation of Cuong’s wife, Ann. The dish doesn’t call for many ingredients, but whenever you combine oxtail, fish sauce, and time, you end up with magic: in this case, an exceptionally rich and full-bodied stock.
This soup is also perfect for advance planning because it can be left simmering on the stovetop, largely unattended, for four hours while you putter around the house doing errands or watching TV. Then, once the stock and oxtail are finished cooking, you can store it in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to finish the soup with whatever vegetables you have on hand.
Our family loved this soup so much that I asked the folks at Red Boat if I could share it here on the blog. They graciously agreed, so now you can make a pot of it at your leisure!
Oxtail is the culinary name for the tail of cattle. It’s normally sold skinned and cut into cross-sections that are about 2 inches in length. Oxtail is best cooked low and slow (or under high pressure in an Instant Pot) to yield fork-tender results. Once this soup is chilled, you’ll get a jiggly broth, too—evidence of the rich collagen content in the meat.
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Oxtail may seem unusual for many home cooks who are more accustomed to chicken breast and flank steak, but it’s amazing when properly prepared. For all of human history, cultures around the world have embraced nose-to-tail eating, and oxtail is one unmissable cut of meat that countless generations have enjoyed. If you haven’t tried it yet, make this recipe, and I promise you’ll be a convert.
Where do you buy oxtail?
Most butcher shops carry oxtail. If it’s not visible in the butcher’s display case, look for it in the freezer section or ask if it’s stored in the back. Because many immigrant cultures eat oxtail, you can also find it sold in Asian and Latin markets. If you want to find grass fed and grass finished oxtail, you can it online from one of my favorite ranchers, Five Marys Farm.
Oxtail soup makes the best bone broth!
As I mentioned above, oxtail is high in collagen so the resulting broth will be packed with it as well. In fact, when you chill this oxtail soup, it’ll turn into a jiggly beef jello overnight! Even better? The oxtail meat will impart a crazy amount of beefy flavor to the broth—and you can shred it and add it to the soup!
How can you beat a collagen-rich, full-flavored broth, dotted with tender meat? Answer: You can’t. So make this soup already!
- Oxtail: I try to pick medium sized oxtail pieces that aren’t too big or too small. However, if faced with only large pieces or skinny tail pieces, you should choose the meaty big ones. That way, the soup will have have lots of beefy flavor and there will be lots of meat, too.
- Red Boat Salt or Diamond Crystal kosher salt: You can season the oxtails with Red Boat Salt (Red Boat’s extra-special sea salt infused with fish sauce) for bonus umami or just stick with good ol’ kosher salt.
- Leek: A single leek helps flavor the oxtail stock. You can sub a peeled and halved onion in place of the leek if you don’t have one on hand.
- Red Boat Fish Sauce: This ingredient is essential for this amazing soup, which means there is absolutely no substitute for it. Buy it here. (Hey: this recipe is from the Red Book Fish Sauce Cookbook, so you know you’ll need it!)
- Seasonal vegetables: This recipe suggest using chopped kohlrabi, carrots, green cabbage, onions, celery, and baby bok choy, but almost ANY vegetables will work. Just clean out your crisper and throw whatever you have on hand into the soup!
- Black pepper
- Scallions: Optional garnish
How to make oxtail soup
Prepare the oxtail stock
Trim the oxtail of any excess fat and season with salt.
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot set over high or medium-high heat, sear the oxtail until all the sides are browned, approximately 2 minutes per side. Do this in small batches to avoid overcrowding the pot (crowding the pot will result in the oxtail steaming rather than searing).
Once all the oxtail is seared, remove the oxtail and add 1 cup of water to the pot. Use a spatula to scrape and stir the bits of caramelized meat juices stuck to the bottom of the pot.
Return the oxtail to the pot. Add the leek and an additional 3 quarts of water.
Bring the contents to a boil for 15 minutes, skimming off any foam that develops. (I use this super fine mesh strainer to remove any foam or scum at the top.)
Add the fish sauce, lower the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer the stock for 4 hours. Check on the stock every so often to skim off any foam that develops on the surface.
While the stock cooks, prepare the vegetables. After you cut ’em up, stick them in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble your soup.
After the oxtail has simmered on the stovetop for four hours, the meat should be fork tender. Fill a large bowl with water and ice and transfer the oxtail into the ice bath and set aside. (The ice bath is optional—Mama Pham does it to keep the oxtails from discoloring.)
Strain the stock into another large pot or bowl. If the stock ends up being less than 2 quarts (or 8 cups), add enough water to make up the difference.
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Rinse out the pot, then return the strained stock back into the pot. Return the oxtail to the pot. (If you prefer your oxtail boneless, you may remove the meat from the bones, returning only the meat to the stock.)
Meal prep tip!
If you’re meal prepping or cooking ahead, you can stop at this point and refrigerate the oxtail soup for up to four days or freeze it for up to four months in a covered container.
Add the vegetables to the oxtail soup
Bring the stock and oxtail to a boil, then add the onions, kohlrabi, carrots, and celery.
Cook for approximately 15 minutes, skimming off any foam that develops.
Add the cabbage and baby bok choy and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the vegetables reach the desired tenderness. Then, take the pot off the heat.
Season the soup with black pepper. Taste to see if you need any additional seasoning.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with sliced scallions if desired. Finally: slurp it up!
Can you make oxtail soup in the Instant Pot?
Yes! Sear the salted oxtails on the sauté function in batches, about 2 minutes per side. Throw in the leek, pour in 2 quarts (8 cups) of water, and the fish sauce. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a silicone spatula to release any browned bits.
Lock the lid and cook under high pressure for 45 minutes and let the pressure release naturally.
Remove the oxtails and strain the stock. Skim off the fat in the broth if desired. Add the strained stock and oxtails back into the Instant Pot, along with all the veggies. Cook under high pressure for 1 minute.
Release pressure manually. Season the soup with black pepper. Taste to see if you need any additional seasoning. Serve!
Want to try another paleo and Whole30-compatible oxtail recipe?
Make my super simple Instant Pot Oxtail Stew!
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022).
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