Oct 24

Oxtail Ramen—When food is more than food.

in Food History, Japan, Japanese, Main Course, Meat, Recipes By Region, Recipes by Type, Rice & Noodles, Soup & Stew

Oxtail Ramen

I am a very nostalgic person and highly prone to introspection.  I think this is a large part of why food writing is such an important outlet for me, because food is so much more than just food.  It’s memory, love, excitement, art, joy, and more.  A recent email from a reader, with a subject line that read “When food is more than food” struck a chord with me.  The email shared the person’s memories of growing up in Japan, his mother lovingly preparing food for her family, and the impact that has had on his life.

The email reminded me of a favorite quote from  Michael Rosen. Rosen wrote, in the Introduction of Cooking from the Heart, “The flavors, aromas, colors, and textures of the foods we have shared create impressions more profound than mere gustatory recollection.  Along with recognizing key sensations . . . come so many associated experiences: where you were, who joined in the meal, what you had been doing just before, as though pulling one container from the crowded larder of your memory forced the entire contents of the shelf to spill onto the counter.”  Rosen also wrote, “Each chef’s table—whether oceans, generations, or cultures away—will link with yours as though we were all sitting down to eat at one universal table assembled from each of our individual leaves.”

As I think of the wonderful email that I received, I’d like to reword what Rosen wrote.  I think that as we share those containers that we pull from the larders of our memories, each of us, whether chef or home cook, will link our tables as though we were all sitting down to eat at one universal table.  Creating, capturing, and sharing at the world table is one of my greatest pleasures in life.  What memories are you creating in your kitchen and at your table?

I recently made a pot of oxtail ramen, a twist on traditional Japanese tonkotsu ramen.  Tonkotsu ramen is made with pork bones, and the flavor of the soup comes primarily from the broth made from the pork bones than from the tare (sauce used to add flavor to ramen broth).  The broth is made over many hours, the bones simmering slowly in liquid on the stove.  The final assembly of the soup is quick, it’s the preparation that takes patience and love.


During a recent trip to the grocery store, I happened to walk past the meat counter and saw a display of oxtails.  I quickly grabbed several packages to take home, not knowing what I was going to make with them.  Oxtails are very bony and gelatinous, requiring slow cooking to turn them into something delicious.  As I considered the possibilities, the thought of slow cooking made me think of the process of making ramen stock, and I knew at once that my oxtails were meant to be made into ramen.

Making the oxtail broth

I simmered the oxtails in a pot, along with water, kombu, and some vegetables for seven hours.  Then I separated the meat and the broth and put them in the refrigerator.  When we were ready to eat, I made some soft boiled eggs, cooked the noodles, made a simple tare out of miso paste and garlic paste to accentuate the flavors of the oxtail broth, and brought the oxtail broth to a boil.  In each bowl I put a small spoonful of tare, a handful of noodles, and some oxtail meat.  Then I ladled the steaming oxtail broth over everything and mixed.  Each bowl was garnished with a softboiled egg and some julienned scallions.

This is the type of meal that requires patience and love, but results in a bowl of rich comfort food.  It was a  meal that ended in my girls giving me big hugs after they had finished eating.  Whether they realized it or not, I think they tasted the love that went into the meal.  I hope that as they look back on their childhood, they’ll remember our kitchen as the heart of our home.  The place where we laughed, played, and spent time with one another.  Even if they don’t remember specifics, I hope that the feelings produced by time spent in the kitchen and together at meal time will stick with them, and that they will carry them into adulthood so that they will want to create those types of memories for their own families.  This oxtail ramen was born from memories of steaming bowls of ramen eaten on cold autumn days in Japan, and has been seasoned with new memories of my little girls noisily slurping their noodles at dinner time.  So much more than just food.

Bowl of comforting oxtail ramen

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Oxtail Ramen

Makes about 6 servings

For the Oxtail Stock:
5 pounds oxtail, cut in cross-sections of roughly the same thickness
1 medium yellow onion, cut into quarters
1 large leek, green part only, cut in half and rinsed thoroughly
1 1/2 ounces fresh ginger (a section about 3-inches long), sliced
1 head garlic, separated into individual cloves
One 8-inch square piece kombu (kelp)
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

1. Parboil the oxtails: Place the oxtail sections in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to a vigorous boil over high heat and let it continue to boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and rinse the oxtails in clean water. Scrub the pot clean and return the oxtails to the pot. (This step makes a cleaner stock, because it helps remove bits of marrow and other impurities that will cloud the flavor of the stock.)

2. Make the stock: Add the onion, leek, ginger, garlic, and kombu to the pot. Add enough water to cover all the ingredients by 1-inch, and bring the mixture to a slow boil over high heat. Turn the heat to low, and gently simmer, uncovered, for 7 hours, adding water as necessary to keep the oxtails covered.

3. Remove the oxtails and submerge them in a clean pot of cold water for 10 minutes. Drain the sections and bring them to room temperature, then store them in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

4. Discard all the remaining solids, then strain the stock through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean pot. Stir in the coarse sea salt, and let the stock cool at room temperature, then store in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavors develop and the fat separate to the top.

For the Garlic Miso Paste:
1/3 cup shiro miso (white miso paste)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons oxtail fat, taken from top of chilled oxtail stock

1. Stir the miso and crushed garlic together in a small bowl.

2. In a small skillet, heat the oxtail fat. When it has melted, add the miso mixture, and cook it over low heat, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. transfer the mixture to a small container, and set it aside until ready to use.

For the Soft-Boiled Eggs:
6 large eggs

1. Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, then cook the cooks for 1 minute 30 seconds. Immediately remove the eggs and rinse them under cold water until they are cool enough to handle. Remove them from the water and pat the shells dry with a kitchen towel. Set the eggs aside until ready to be served (or make ahead of time and keep chilled in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days).

For the Oxtail Ramen:
Prepared Miso Garlic Paste
16 ounces dried chukasoba noodles, cooked according to package directions
Cooked oxtail meat, fat removed and meat shredded
7 cups Oxtail Stock
6 Soft-Boiled Eggs
8 scallions, white parts only, julienned in 2-inch lengths and soaked in cold water until needed

1. Remove the pot of chilled oxtail broth from the refrigerator. Scoop off the white crust of fat, leaving a few bits of it for flavor. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a rolling boil.

2. Place 1 tablespoon of the miso garlic paste into each noodle bowl. Drain the cooked noodles and divide them among the bowls. Add some of the shredded oxtail meat. Add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of hot ramen stock to each bowl. With a pair of chopsticks or tongs, lift and stir the noodles several times so that the miso garlic paste dissolves.

3. Crack each egg shell at the larger end, lightly tapping it on a hard surface. Then carefully peel the shell away. If necessary, use a small spoon to gently scoop the egg from its shell. Carefully slice each egg in half and place on top of the noodles. Drain the scallions and use to garnish. Serve immediately.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

jenjenk October 24, 2011 at 12:47 pm

oh yummmmm…this look marvelous!!!


Bianca @ South Bay Rants n Raves October 24, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Yes food is definitely more than that. Every time I eat a dish I grew up with, it brings back so many memories. It’s wonderful you’ve made such great dishes for your kids like this one. I’m sure they’ll remember all these memories fondly when they look back.

This soup looks great & I’ll put it on my list to try. I need to be daring, and patient for this one!


Shaina October 24, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I love ramen. I need to make time this coming month to add it to my menu. Thanks for the glorious recipe and inspiration.


Lana @ Never Enough Thyme October 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Such a beautiful, thoughtful post Rachael. It’s true that food (the preparation, the sharing and the eating of it) creates memories that we carry throughout our lives. Even though my cuisine (traditional southern u.s.) is very different from yours, I feel the same emotions. I remember the recipes that my grandmothers and aunts made with love and care and I try to pass those on to another generation through my cooking.


Barbara | Creative Culinary October 24, 2011 at 2:18 pm

This is what food means to me. The preparation, the memories…both past and the ones I’m making now with friends and family over a meal; those are what make food so special to us. Great article and wonderful recipe.


veron October 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Ahhh…perfect comfort food indeed! Yes, slurping required. :)


Krista {BudgetGourmetMom} October 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm

It looks like it turned out fabulous! You are such an inspiration. xoxo


Heather | Farmgirl Gourmet October 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I’m swooooooooooooning over the pic of the raw oxtails in the bowl!! Your purveyor is obviously much better than mine!! They are gorgeous. The ramen sounds delish too!! Love Oxtail!! Great post.



Jerry (CbsoP) October 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm

You had me at oxtail. Seriously. It’s my 3rd favorite piece of beef. 1 being heart, 2 being shank. Absolutely gorgeous!


foodwanderings October 24, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Oh wow you and Heather are on the same wavelength today. Love the shot of the raw oxtails. So vibrant! Meant forever to make oxtails I know I would love them. This is a fantastic Ramen option might help me leap into making it.


Lora @cakeduchess October 24, 2011 at 5:57 pm

What a wonderful post and such a thoughtful email to receive. This Oxtail Ramen looks so hearty and delicious. Your eggs look just perfect:) Happy Monday, Rachael.xx


Tickled Red October 24, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Oh yum! I am seriously going to have to try oxtail now. I love the quote as well, simply perfect.


Fuji Nana October 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm

What a gorgeous dish. I never met an oxtail I didn’t like. I’ll definitely have to try this version!


Jamie October 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Never had oxtails but this looks so delicious I’d happily share a bowl with you. And of course anyone who reads my own blog or Huff Post articles knows how important this message of the meaning of food is to me. Beautiful post.


[email protected] October 24, 2011 at 7:40 pm

You’ve said it far more eloquently than I ever could Rachael. The memories you are creating for your girls are priceless!!! Had dinner with my oldest in Dallas a couple of weeks ago and he said how much he missed my cooking – reading between the lines though, what he misses is that sense of family that only seems to take place in the kitchen and over the dinner table!
This ramen is such a great metaphor for your story – not to mention being delicious!!
I truly think the answer to many of our problems could be fixed with heaping bowls of this ramen!


Jayne October 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Hey Rachael, you reckon the broth will be ok if I made it in a crock pot?


carolineadobo October 25, 2011 at 2:18 am

My husband has gotten ahold of my Lucky Peach magazine and hasn’t let go! He has now started making ramen noodles so we are eating ramen at least twice a day — I am not complaining, though. I love oxtail and so this stock is something something I’d make to go with.


Winnie October 25, 2011 at 5:12 am

Beautiful post Rachael.


JimmyB October 25, 2011 at 8:19 am

How eloquent was your opening and Rosens email. When I was a kid growing up in the 50’s, my family would sit at the dinner table for hours and enjoy my Mom’s cooking; discussing all the vicissitudes of life, especially during the holidays. My friends always wanted to eat at my house. Tis true in our human existence, food binds us together. I traveled the Pacific Rim several times alone. At almost every meal, I was invited to a communal table…..adding another leaf.


[email protected]'s Cookin' October 25, 2011 at 8:34 am

What a bowl of comfort and love! I miss the days when my daughter would ask me to make a favorite dish or give me a hug to tell me she loved what I made. Beautiful post, so eloquently expressed.


Gisele aka LA2LAChef October 25, 2011 at 9:03 am

I so agree, Rachael- food is so much more than just food, and it’s certainly more than porn although we live in a time when we have so often reduced it to pure titillation


Connie November 9, 2011 at 1:52 am

You made an unattractive piece of meat look good :) Ox tail isn’t a glamorous piece of meat.


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