Simple Seoul Food – Ggori Gom-tahng (Korean Oxtail Soup)

ggori gook, korean oxtail soup
I make fun of Dad a lot, but really I shouldn’t. Of course, it’s not nice to make fun of one’s parents, but in poking fun at Dad, I’m simply exhibiting my own self-hatred. Certainly there are a few things about me which make Dad wonder if I truly am his biological daughter, like every time the Captain, who keep his ship in perfect shape, visits and sees my mess of an apartment. But in so many ways, Dad and I are practically the same person. So snide comments, for example, about my Dad’s sweet tooth turning him into the Korean version of the stay-puff marshmallow are really self-deprecating remarks about my own lack of self-control around desserts. There must be some strange parent-offspring reverse personality projection psychology in there somewhere. I never took a psych class at Cal, so, yes, I don’t really know what any of those words are.

My tastesbuds are a perfect representation of my parents. Half are directly descended from Mom – cocktails that aren’t sticky sweet, wine with dinner, sushi, foods that are so fiery hot we sweat, and dehn-jahng (Korean fermented soybean paste). The other half are genetic copies of my Dad – sweets, desserts, and, uh, anything with sugar and fat. Did I mention ice cream? Dad loves Spanish mackerel and I always order anchovies and sardines, but in the end, it’s all strong, oily fish. We also both like clear, brothy soups, but are on polar ends of the flavor spectrum. Dad likes the simple ones with one or two ingredients, and a very bland (not bland-boring, but bland-not spicy) base, like galbee-tahng. I prefer my soups with lots of different vegetables, meat optional, and always screaming with spice, like yook-gae-jahng. But ggori-gook, Korean oxtail soup, is one where Dad and I will meet in the middle.

ggori gook (korean oxtail soup) meat
oxtail meat tendril with fatty striations
ggori gook (korean oxtail soup) bones
tail bones after a delicious feeding frenzy

I’m not sure what it is about ggori gook that turns us into five year olds at the dinner table. We snatch bones out of the soup bowl with our bare hands, tear at the tendrils of meat and fat, splash broth and bits of beef and garlic all over the tablecloth, slurp broth, and let out a noisy mmm with every bite. When we look up from our bowls, Mom and the Twins are staring wide-eyed and horror-stricken at our delightful feeding frenzy. Dad and I just ask for seconds.

As incredibly flavorful and delicious as the broth is, ggori gook is probably the simplest Korean soup to make with respect to ingredients. Aside from enough water to cover two times deep, it requires only two to three pounds of oxtails and four to five lightly crushed whole garlic cloves to cook. Salt, pepper, and chopped green onions for individual seasoning are served alongside the soup at the table. But though the ingredients are few, the effort comes in the long, watchful simmering. The oxtails, garlic and water simmer for at least two to three hours, with occasional skimming of foam from the surface. If you have the time, simmering longer creates a richer, darker soup, and the meat will fall away from the bones.

ggori gook (korean oxtail soup) soup in bowl
season with salt, pepper to individual taste
ggori gook (korean oxtail soup) meat
cooked so tender meat falls off bone

Mom taught me the trick of preparing soups a day in advance to let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Fat rendered from meat and bones will harden in a solid layer of lard at the surface, making it much easier to remove. It’s not always necessary for other soups, but oxtails are very fatty. That’s why they taste so good. But Mom has to be mindful of Dad’s waistline. :)

There are plenty of places in LA’s Koreatown that serve ggori gook. Jinju on Western Avenue just south of 6th Street specializes in gom tahng and other long simmered beef based soups. Because gom tahng, suh lung tahng, and yook gae jahng are considered pre-emptive hangover cures (ancient Korean secret, I’m sure) Jinju is open 24 hours, packed with shiny red-faced twenty-somethings at 2 am. And few *ahem* thirty-somethings every once in a while.

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  • Anonymous

    Did you have to take a picture of the bones? That looks pretty disgusting. It’s like showing us a carcass after eating a roast chicken.

  • sarah

    lol! i thought it was so interesting that my mom simmered the broth so long that the meat fell off the bones so cleanly! sorry if it grosses anyone out :)

    • lily

      todaly

  • e d b m

    oh man that looks so good sarah. especially when you’re hungover. do you ever make gum ja tang with the huge pork bones and potatoes? i always get it at the food court in the Ktown Galleria (olympic/western).

  • Eddie Lin

    Sarah,

    I can’t believe you ate oxtail!! Isn’t that on the funky side for you? I for one am glad you took a photo of the dust dry oxtail bones because now I can vicariously experience the marrow sucking that you must’ve done to get dem bones in that pristine condition. Sluurpityburp!!

    Now I want to go to K-town this weekend and have a bowl then get piss drunk at a karaoke bar. There, you just planned my weekend! Thanks!

  • Eddie Lin

    Sarah,

    I can’t believe you ate oxtail!! Isn’t that on the funky side for you? I for one am glad you took a photo of the dust dry oxtail bones because now I can vicariously experience the marrow sucking that you must’ve done to get dem bones in that pristine condition. Sluurpityburp!!

    Now I want to go to K-town this weekend and have a bowl then get piss drunk at a karaoke bar. There, you just planned my weekend! Thanks!

  • sarah

    you know, i’ve never made gam-ja tahng before, and i’m pretty sure i’ve never eaten it before, either. it’s so weird how certain things you just never eat all your life because it’s not something you ate with your parents. like, one of my friends just never eats dahk-wahng (the bright yellow pickled radish) b/c she never ate it when she was little. weird.

    eddie – are you kidding me!??! oxtail isn’t weird, lol! that’s like OG korean style. deep end dining is very relative, huh? lol! okay, but your octopus tentacles just ain’t right in any cuisine. ;)

  • JC

    I love the korean oxtail soup! I simply call all korean, clear beef soup korean pho. I usually go to this place near the intersection of wilshire and western (near the M Grill on wilshire) Anyway, thanks for the information. I am going to check out ggori gook at Jinju.

  • sarah

    korean pho?!?! i just might be offended by that…but then again, i have started to develop this strange taste for pho AS LONG AS NO ONE PUTS THAT NASTY SOAP-TASTING CILANTRO in it…something about steaming hot clear broths. in fact, i am coughing pretty badly today and pho sounds perfect!

  • James from lostseouls.com

    there are restaurants here in Seoul that leave seoullung tang and ggori-gum tang bubbling in giant vats for days on end.

    They put the vats by the huge windows for passers-by to admire.

    Tis pretty cool.

  • sarah

    hey james…cool site name! it’s been a long time since i’ve been to korea, but seeing those vats would make me crazy hungry!

  • bitstreamer

    That oxtail soup looks great! I’ve decided that I’m gonna have some for dinner tonight (canned :( ).

  • sarah

    bitstreamer: sometimes, you can’t be picky though. if you gotta have oxtail, you gotta have oxtail.

  • sarah

    bitstreamer: sometimes, you can’t be picky though. if you gotta have oxtail, you gotta have oxtail.

  • halfkoreanstudmuffin

    I just had a entire pot full of this to feed my cold…so tasty.

  • Jackie

    wow i just love ox-tail soup. being sick was practically celebration time because i knew mom would start on the soup right away. mmm… the onions and garlic… a little bowl of rice. salting the meat. my mom made it for me last time i went to visit with my boyfriend and he was completely horrified and disgusted by the premise. i think the fat scared him. now i can show him your website and confirm that ox-tail soup and spam is just how we koreans roll. i love your site and will be checking it frequently. i am so glad i found it while looking for duk bok ki recipe. i hope you post more korean-related food stuff. THANKS!!!!

  • Jackie

    wow i just love ox-tail soup. being sick was practically celebration time because i knew mom would start on the soup right away. mmm… the onions and garlic… a little bowl of rice. salting the meat. my mom made it for me last time i went to visit with my boyfriend and he was completely horrified and disgusted by the premise. i think the fat scared him. now i can show him your website and confirm that ox-tail soup and spam is just how we koreans roll. i love your site and will be checking it frequently. i am so glad i found it while looking for duk bok ki recipe. i hope you post more korean-related food stuff. THANKS!!!!

  • yangster

    Wow, was thinking about making some ox-tail soup cause we’re having a cold spell here in Atlanta. Haven’t had any in at least 15 years. Mom used to use to take half of the meat, season it with soysauce, sesame oil and other things. Then she would ad it back our bowls right before she served it. Does this sound familiar? Looking for that recipe, but I’m sure it’s pretty easy.

  • yangster

    Wow, was thinking about making some ox-tail soup cause we’re having a cold spell here in Atlanta. Haven’t had any in at least 15 years. Mom used to use to take half of the meat, season it with soysauce, sesame oil and other things. Then she would ad it back our bowls right before she served it. Does this sound familiar? Looking for that recipe, but I’m sure it’s pretty easy.

  • fawn

    Looks Perfect, one of my favorites!
    Do you give Korean cooking lessons in L.A.?
    If not would you consider it?

  • Pingback: 꼬리곰탕 Ox Tail Soup at 진주집 - Final in The Seoul Series | The Thirsty Pig 飢渴的豬

  • Dlhawkboy

    so i made ur oxtail  soup tonight it was good but the color could of been browner . it was easy to make . thanks daniel

  • http://tastingkorea.blogspot.com/ Tasting Korea

    Your recipe has been feature on Tasting Korea, “Korean Food is Not Peasant Food, But Comfort Food.”  http://tastingkorea.blogspot.com/2012/01/korean-food-is-not-peasant-food-but.html

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