German oxtail soup is another dish in the category of gelatinous dishes that Swabians love. And it is not even made from weird parts like pig head, cow nose, or tripe. It’s a cut of beef that almost anyone loves. It’s meaty, fatty, and gelatinous!
Oftentimes, you hear the fairytale of oxtail being a poor man’s food and how wholesome it is because the tail is part of nose-to-tail eating. That’s a nice bedtime story to tell yourself but poor Swabians certainly didn’t eat oxtail soup with Madeira wine. They ate other weird parts of the pig and cow; like blood, kidneys, stomach, or the ears and nose. The highlight for many was the pig brain soup that was served at weddings. Oxtail is not one of the cheapest cuts of beef in Germany.
Having said that, oxtail is delicious and you cannot mess it up. However, German oxtail soup is a refined dish. If it is served in restaurants, they defat the beef broth. I don’t do that. You can see the fat floating on top of the soup. The picture is less pretty but that fat tastes good. Removing it is a waste of flavor!
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The two versions of German oxtail soup
There are two versions of German oxtail soup: The cloudy soup (“gebundene Ochsenschwanzsuppe”) and the clear soup (“klare Ochsenschwanzsuppe”). The cloudy soup is thickened with a roux whereas the clear soup is clarified like a consommé with minced meat and egg whites.
Just before serving, the cloudy German oxtail soup is enriched with Madeira wine (some cheap people use sherry). Madeira is a Portuguese island. It is the place where the first African slaves worked on European sugar plantations before the sugar production was outsourced to the Caribean Islands. Today, it is a popular tourist destination.
I guess now you can see why German oxtail soup was traditionally not a poor man’s food (at least in Swabia). It is a food that was popular among wealthy people.
- The broth is defatted (not by me). That’s something no poor Swabian would ever do!
- The clear soup is clarified with minced meat and egg whites to get it crystal clear. Ok, which poor Swabian would waste meat and eggs to clarify a broth?
- The cloudy soup is enriched with Madeira wine. Which poor Swabian could afford this foreign delicacy?
- Oxtail is a meaty, fatty, and tender cut of beef. This makes it a popular cut of beef rather than a “waste product”.
Things to consider when preparing the dish
I always use my pressure cooker to prepare broths and stews. But it is your choice if you want to wait several hours until the meat is tender. I don’t have that time. Oxtail is a tough cut. About 3 hours of simmering is the minimum to get oxtail tender in a Dutch oven. The pressure cooker achieves that in 45 minutes.
Besides that, this dish is pretty straightforward. I don’t thicken my oxtail soup a lot. I just aim for a slightly creamy texture. If you like your oxtail soup thicker, you can thicken it more with extra flour or cornstarch. That also prevents the fat from floating to the top. I don’t mind about the fat droplets. They are delicious!
It’s important that you add some of the Madeira wine just before serving. This soup is alcoholic. You don’t want to boil all the alcohol off. Alcohol is a great solvent for aroma compounds. It intensifies the flavor and makes the soup extra delicious.