Hawaii Oxtail Soup

My parents-in-law recently visited from Hawaii over the holidays, to help around the house as we adjusted to having a new baby in our family. It was great spending the holidays with them, but it also made me realize how much I miss living in Hawaii. I lived there from ages 21 to 28, and many of the events that shaped who I am today – from meeting and marrying my wife, to honing my skills as a home chef, to suffering the worst of my health adventures – came while living in view of the Honolulu skyline. For a few of those years, Janey and I lived with her parents, whom we affectionately called our “roommates”.

When we left the island in 2008, it genuinely felt like I was leaving home; time has caused that sentiment to wane a bit, but in the end, Hawaii has a special place in my heart. And within that special place in my heart there is another, perhaps specialer place in my heart, which is where Hawaii’s Chinese-style oxtail soup resides.

The title for Hawaii’s best oxtail soup is hotly contested. I’ve heard everything from Kapiolani Coffee Shop to Aiea Bowl. Somewhat surprisingly, restaurants attached to bowling alleys are generally known for having good oxtail soup – even the famous Kapiolani Coffee Shop oxtail soup got its start at Kam Bowl, which closed in 2007 but re-opened just last month.

I like to think that preparing an authentic dish from Hawaii makes the sting of not living there hurt a little less, and you really can’t go wrong with a Chinese-inspired creation that’s equal parts rich and comforting. So we’re going to recreate it today for those of us who can’t just drive to our local bowling alley to buy a bowl of soup. Included below are stovetop and electric pressure cooker variations of the recipe, whatever floats your boat.

Hawaii Oxtail Soup (Gluten-Free, Paleo, Dairy-Free, Whole30, Low Carb, Perfect Health Diet)

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 2.5 hours (Instant Pot), 4 hours (stovetop)
  • Difficulty: Easy

3-4 lbs oxtails
2 dried shiitake mushrooms (fresh okay)
1″ ginger, peeled, sliced into disks, and smashed
4 whole star anise
peel of 1/2 orange, white part removed
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
4 cups chicken broth
1 tsp fish sauce
salt to taste

garnishes:
1 lb mustard greens, coarsely chopped (other greens like swiss chard okay)
lime wedges
crushed red pepper flakes
1″ ginger, peeled, sliced into thin matchsticks or grated
chopped cilantro
chopped green onions

Instant Pot instructions:

1. Preheat your oven to 400F. Place the oxtails on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, turning after 30 minutes. As the oxtails roast, soak the mushrooms in warm water and prepare your other soup ingredients.

2. Remove the roasted oxtails from the oven and place them in the Instant Pot with the mushrooms, ginger, star anise, orange peel, peppercorns, and chicken broth. Add enough water to bring the total volume to 10 cups total, about 4 cups of water. Cover and set to “Soup”, high pressure, 90 minutes. As it cooks, prep your garnishes and set them aside.

3. Once the Instant Pot finishes cooking, allow it to stay on the “Warm” setting for 10 minutes, then force-depressurize by turning the knob on its lid. Remove the lid and pour the soup into a stockpot or large bowl, pouring through a strainer to collect the oxtail and other ingredients. Divide the oxtails into 4 soup bowls, and discard the remaining ingredients.

4. Skim the accumulated fat from the top of the soup, then return the soup to the Instant Pot (alternatively, if you used a stockpot, you can keep it there). Press the “Saute” button to bring the soup to a simmer – as it heats, add the fish sauce and salt to taste. Once simmering, add the mustard greens and simmer until bright green, about 1 minute, then ladle the soup into the soup bowls. Garnish with lime wedges, crushed red pepper flakes, ginger sticks, cilantro, and green onions.

Stovetop instructions:

1. Preheat your oven to 400F. Place the oxtails on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, turning after 30 minutes. As the oxtails roast, soak the mushrooms in warm water and prepare your other soup ingredients.

2. Remove the roasted oxtails from the oven and place them in a stockpot with the mushrooms, ginger, star anise, orange peel, peppercorns, and chicken broth. Add enough water to bring the total volume to 10 cups total, about 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat is tender, about 3 hours, skimming any accumulated foam or oil from the top. As the oxtails become tender, prep your garnishes and set them aside.

3. Pour the soup through a strainer to collect the oxtail and other ingredients, collecting the broth in a different pot. Divide the oxtails into 4 soup bowls, and discard the remaining ingredients.

4. Reheat the soup and skim any remaining accumulated fat from the top; bring the soup to a simmer over medium heat – as it heats, add the fish sauce and salt to taste. Once simmering, add the mustard greens and simmer until bright green, about 1 minute, then ladle the soup into the soup bowls. Garnish with lime wedges, crushed red pepper flakes, ginger sticks, cilantro, and green onions.

** You can roast the oxtails from a frozen state – just add 15 minutes to the initial roasting time.

** The only difference between this recipe and your typical oxtail soup preparation is that the oxtails are usually boiled with raw (peeled and skinned) peanuts; if you’re okay with peanuts, add 1/2 cup of them when you add the other mushrooms.

** Traditionally, this soup is served with two scoops of white rice.


Oxtails after roasting – don’t skip this step!

18 thoughts on “Hawaii Oxtail Soup

  1. Back in the day – I thought our bowling alley food was good. But it was burgers and fries I couldn’t imagine seeing soup there! Anyway, I would like to try this in the Instant Pot but I wonder if the meat will get as tender doing it in that. I made your fabulous Pot Roast using the instant pot but the meat wasn’t super tender using that method. Is this always the case with the Instant Pot?

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      1. Hi Krystal, I’ve found that letting the meat set for 10 minutes at the “Warm” setting before depressurizing doesn’t alter the tenderness of the meat, so that’s why the instructions are written as such!

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    1. Depending on who big the chunks of meat are, cooking times can vary a little, I’m sorry to hear that the pot roast wasn’t too tender! For something like oxtails 90 mins is perfect – the picture you see above was using the IP and it turned out great!

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  2. Love this take on eating oxtail which is a family favourite. We usually have with Jamaican rice and peas but have recently tried it in Pho. This recipe reminds me of that and brings back a smile. Amazing.

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  3. I’m going to make this tonight – goin g to bulk it out with other vegetables, but I’ve never made it before. Any I should steer clear of? Thank you!

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