It doesn’t happen very often that you get to enjoy regional Thai dishes in a Thai restaurant outside Thailand. Rarer still? Dishes that are tied not so much to a geographical location but a sub-group in the Thai society. Thai-Muslim oxtail soup is one of those dishes you don’t normally get at a Thai restaurant overseas. All the more reason to make it yourself.
This soup, as served in Thailand, is redolent of dried spices associated with Middle Eastern or South Asian cuisine while boasting the flavors that you love about Thai cuisine. Have a bowl of this with warm jasmine rice and find out for yourself why it’s one of the most loved Thai-Muslim dishes.
Skin-on oxtails are the best and the most commonly-used meat for this soup. In fact, that’s the way it’s done at my favorite Muslim restaurant in Bangkok (you can read about it in my post on Good Eats in Historic Bang Rak) and most of the other good ones serving the same dish.
Those of you living in the US and Europe probably can’t find oxtails easily, and if you do, they’re most likely skinless. No worries. You can use skinless oxtails. You can even do what I do here which is to replace the oxtails with bone-in beef shanks. Both cuts require long, slow cooking and are appropriate for this application.
One component of the dish that I consider essential to this soup is fried shallots. You don’t need much for a little goes a long way in perfuming the whole pot. Fried shallots may seem like an optional garnish. But leave them out and this soup ceases to be what it is — at least to me.
What is optional, at least as far as I’m concerned, is potatoes. Some people add them to the soup. I don’t. Neither do Muslim Restaurant and a couple of other good places which I can think of off the top of my head. If you like tender chunks of potatoes in this, feel free to include them. I find that potato pieces cause the broth to be overly starchy and cloudy which is not necessarily a bad thing. But considering that you’re supposed to eat the soup with rice anyway, extra starch seems superfluous. But it’s up to you.
Thai-Muslim Beef Soup (ซุปเนื้ออิสลาม)
3 lbs bone-in beef shanks (tied with kitchen strings to retain the shape) or 3.5 lbs pieces of oxtail
4-5 green cardamom pods
2 sticks cinnamon
2 teaspoons white or black peppercorns
One large yellow onion, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch pieces
4 plum tomatoes, quartered
2-3 small waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (optional)
2 medium shallots, peeled and sliced very thinly
1/4 cup plain vegetable oil
5-6 bird’s eye chilies (more or fewer to taste), crushed
Lime juice, to taste
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup (lightly-packed) cilantro leaves
- Place the beef pieces in a large pot and cover them with plain water. Add to the pot the cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and 1.5 tablespoons of salt. Bring the pot to a boil; reduce the heat to achieve a gentle simmer and cover the pot.
- Let the beef stew for about an hour. Check on it periodically and replenish the water as needed. The water level should be about 1.5-2 inches above the beef at all times. Adjust the heat every time more water is added to the pot to maintain the simmer.
- After one hour, add the onions, tomatoes, and potatoes (if applicable) to the pot. Let the beef stew on low heat for another 2 hours (more or less depending on the sizes of the beef pieces).
- In the meantime, make fried shallots by heating the vegetable oil in a small pan over medium-low heat. When the oil gets slightly warm (not smoking hot), add the shallots to it and stir constantly. You want to fry the shallots over moderate heat; this allows them to dry and crisp up without burning. Once the shallots are crispy and golden brown, drain off the oil and let them cool on a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside.
- Once the beef is fall-off-the-bone tender, take the pot off the heat. Taste to see if more salt is needed. Add lime juice to taste. Stir in the crushed chilies.
- Serve, garnished with chopped green onions and cilantro leaves, with rice.