Sop buntut is not my favorite Indonesian dish. It is, however, extremely popular on Java. It is a soup that is at once hearty and delicate, the oxtails being a rich, surprisingly fatty meat, yet the broth is light and fragrant with spice. As with Vietnamese Pho Bo, it is the broth that is the mark of a good sop buntut.
The broth should be clear and fragrant, not muddied from simmering the ox tail. The spices--cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pepper--should flavor the soup as the flute accents Sundanese gamelan. Carrots and potatoes are included with the broth. In most recipes the potatoes are simply added to the broth towards the end of the cooking. I like James Oseland's method of frying the potatoes before adding them to the broth at the end. It provides another note to the soup.
My wife, Tjing, is not much of a beef eater, but she does like sop buntut. While oxtails are a cheaper cut in Indonesia, here in the US oxtails are relatively expensive. I'm sure most Indonesians would consider it shocking that a kilogram of oxtails goes for around 95,000 Rp. Considering the amount of bone and fat you get, they are definitely not a bargain. Still, happy wife, happy life, so if Tjing wants some oxtail soup, that's fine with me.
Sop Buntut--Indonesian Oxtail Soup
(adapted from Cradle of Flavor)
2 1/2 pounds oxtails, cut into sections at the vertebrae
3 quarts water
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and bruised
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 whole nutmeg, cracked into several pieces
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 TBS sugar
2 tsp salt
3--4 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal about 1/4-inch thick
3--4 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1--2 ripe tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes), sliced into wedges
1 stalk of Chinese celery (seledri), finely chopped
2 green onions, white part only, thinly sliced
2 TBS fried shallots
2 TBS fried garlic slices
peanut or vegetable oil for frying the potatoes
In a large soup pot, bring the oxtails and water to a steady boil over high heat. Use a spoon or a fine mesh skimmer to skim off any foam that rises to the surface. After you have removed as much foam as possible, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the ginger. Cover and simmer for about an hour.
Next, add the spices, including the sugar and salt, to the pot and continue to simmer, covered, for another 30--45 minutes. The meat should be just beginning to come away from the bones. Taste the broth and add salt to taste.
While the broth simmers, prepare the carrots and potatoes. Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to a boil. Add the carrots and boil until just tender, two to three minutes. Drain them in a colander and rinse with cold water.
Lightly fry the potatoes until they are light brown. They should be just cooked through the center. Drain on paper towels.
To serve, place some oxtail, carrots, and potatoes in a bowl. Ladle in some hot broth. Top with some wedges of ripe tomato. Sprinkle with the fried shallots, fried slices of garlic, sliced green onion, and chopped Chinese celery.
Serve with rice and sambal. Emping melinjo (melinjo crackers) are a nice accompaniment.