On eating one’s favorite animated characters

by Ben on July 27, 2011 · 41 comments

in Gluten Free, Index, Korean, Meats, Soups

It’s easy to think you’ll be that parent who won’t allow a trivial thing like childrearing affect your worldview. You’ll be the one who takes his toddler to cocktail parties, doesn’t give a shit about naps, only allows cool music on the car stereo, etc. Then, one day, you find yourself covered in princess stickers and humming Yo Gabba Gabba! songs at work. There are times when I feel a bit sheepish about my old attitudes. When I finally get why parents do the ridiculous shit they do. Ohhhhh, THAT’s why my nieces go to bed at 6PM! (So my sister can have a life!) Then there are times I wonder who the hell I am.

In particular, when around my daughter, I’ve found myself tiptoeing around the fact that things die. You know, Peep and Quack? On that show you like so much? We’re eating them for dinner. The cow we say goodnight to? Along with the moon and all those other things in that goddamn book? Lunch tomorrow. These are jokes I clearly would have made 5 years ago. But now, I’m worried I’ll freak her out. More importantly, I’m worried that she’ll stop eating those things.

So I’ve done things like verbally edit Esme’s storybooks for content. In particular, the scene in Babar, in which the protagonist’s mother is killed by poachers. Or that scene in Snow White, when the Prince, traveling through the forest, falls madly in love with what he knows to be the rotting corpse of a 14-year-old girl. I suggest that, possibly, Snow White is sleeping. Leave it to one of Esme’s classmates to bring me back with a dose of reality:

“No. She’s dead,” she says, matter-of-factly. She smiles, then gives me a reassuring nod. “She’s dead!”

I think back to when I was Esme’s age, and ask whether my parents ever tried to shield me from the concept of death. I doubt that it was ever a concern. From a young age, I was aware that three of my grandparents weren’t living. I heard lots of Bible stories; plenty of death going on there. And there was never any mistaking where my food came from. Meat was almost always cooked on the bone. Fish was served with the skin and head on. I regularly ate feet, stomachs, and livers. It did not once bother me that my favorite soup involved eating the tail of Babe the Blue Ox.

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 Kkori Gomtang (Korean Oxtail Soup)

 A childhood staple, this soup continues to warm the soul during our frigid San Francisco summers. If you’ve never worked with oxtail, you might be concerned that it’s hard to find. It’s not. Most grocery stores and butchers carry it. Sections of oxtail are almost always cut at the joint. This is how I prefer it, so that the cartilage caps* are left intact. In rare cases, the tail sections are saw cut. If that’s all that’s available to you, don’t fret. They’ll work fine for this soup.

6 – 8 sections of oxtail (about 3 lbs)
water
optional: 1/2 – 1 lb chuck or flank steak
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 medium onion, sliced in half
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
kosher or sea salt
3 scallions, thinly sliced
optional: toasted kim (also called nori, or laver)
steamed white rice

Trim any obvious chunks of fat from the oxtail sections. I don’t bother trimming the silverskin. It adds to the broth and is easy to remove later if you don’t want to eat it. Soak the oxtail in ice water for 1 – 2 hours to remove residual blood. Drain, and discard the water.

Add oxtail to a large stockpot with 12 C of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 – 5 hours, skimming impurities. The broth will reduce by about half. Add boiling water if it reduces more quickly than that. When done, the meat will easily pull away from the bone. Remove oxtail segments (keeping them intact) and refrigerate overnight.

Add chuck/flank steak (if you have it), garlic, onion, and peppercorns to the broth, bring to a boil, and simmer over low heat for 1 hour, skimming impurities. Remove meat and reserve for other uses. Strain the broth through a fine chinois or cloth and discard other solids. Season the broth with salt, allow it to cool completely, and refrigerate overnight.

Depending on how thoroughly you skimmed, you may or may not see a solid layer of fat atop the cooled broth. If so, remove it and discard. Add oxtails and broth to a stock pot and boil until heated through.

Serving Traditionally, this soup is cooked without salt or pepper and seasoned at the table. I prefer to serve it already seasoned, as described above. Ladle one section of oxtail with broth per person and garnish with sliced scallion and (optionally) kim. Serve with white rice.

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Don’t be afraid to get a little messy. I can’t resist picking the bone clean with fingers and chopsticks, and then devouring the meat with a sprinkle of sea salt.

*On each end of an oxtail segment, there’s a cartilage cap that easily comes loose when it’s been cooked this long. I used to fight for these and scrape the softened cartilage with my teeth. These days, I don’t have to fight quite so hard for them. But they are still ritual.

Maybe, when confronted with the facts, Esme will one day decide not to eat meat. It’s comforting to be reminded that I don’t need to conceal those facts. God help me if I ever catch myself pulling pin bones out of a salmon fillet. 

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41 comments… read them below or add one

Stella July 27, 2011 at 10:13 am

I think I’ll break my kids in with the story of the Prodigal Son; the slaughtering of Mary’s little lamb is immediately followed by a party. At least, that’s how my parents did it and I only came out half crazy. Also, I am going to abuse my restaurant privileges and order oxtail tonight, because going to the butcher across town just sounds exhausting, yet I have to make this.

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 12:11 am

Call it research. Those oxtail macarons aren’t going to invent themselves.

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Isabelle @ Crumb July 27, 2011 at 10:29 am

See, as a non-parent, this quandary never even occurred to me.
Then again, I’m pretty sure my parents never sugar-coated the whole “we’re eating dead animals” subject, either. The only time I can really remember my parents side-stepping the issue was when during a visit to a relative’s farm in Portugal… they just didn’t have the heart to explain that the bunny I’d spent all afternoon cuddling was also our dinner. (I eventually figure it out, but it was many many many years later)
Oxtail is a big favourite of mine. I’ve tried it Korean-style and Mediterranean-style, but never Korean-style like this… Sounds like perfect cold-weather food.

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 12:13 am

How else did you have it Korean-style? I haven’t had other (Korean) preps.

Also, I saw your new website a couple weeks ago and meant to say that I love the rebrand! The site looks gorgeous.

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Marcie July 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm

My father came from a line of butchers so @ an early age, I went to the buchter houses with him. He showed me from living cows & pigs through the killing to the buchtering of the animal. I was about 9 yrs old @ the time. He gave me a deep apreciation for the sacerfice the animals we were eating gave to us. I have never forgotten that. He also showed me how to cut & dress the meat. He always said in the cutting & dressing, to respect the animal & cut G dress it with the utmosts respect. This animal sacrifised it’s life so you can be nurished. Cut it, dress it, & cook it with love. That is why the meat is so sweet.

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 12:34 am

Valuable lesson. Thanks for sharing, Marce.

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Deb July 27, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I’ve butchered hundreds of chickens in my life too. And raised seven children who turned out fairly normal! (Altho’ defining normal is another issue.) Anyway, I wanted to tell you that this recipe sounds wonderful and I’ve already pulled the oxtail (I’ve been saving) out of the freezer to make this for dinner tomorrow night. And I’ll be using the brand new Himalayan pink salt and organic peppercorns I recently got from Sustainable Sourcing https://secure.sustainablesourcing.com. Definitely not something I ever could afford when the kids were home, but I do now!!! Thanks for posting!

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 12:36 am

Sounds wonderful. Hope you enjoy the recipe!

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Susie July 27, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I often find myself singing crappy kids songs hence my foodbuzz quote is yo gabba gabba and I watch all sorts of crappy kid shows lol. I’m half Asian and I have eaten all sorts of stuff that I never questioned once as a child. I wondered if I would ever have to touch that topic with my children at some point but they spend a lot of time with my mother who still cooks fish with the heads on and eats chicken feet etc. I think having her expose them to all the things I was I have never had to address it not even once. Thank goodness!

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 12:39 am

I know it’s new, and you’ve never tasted it.
You’ll just have to trust in me.
Just give it a try.

Try it. You’ll like it.
Try it. You’ll like it.
Try it. You’ll like it.
Try it. You’re gonna like it.

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Susie July 29, 2011 at 8:00 am

I just read your response to my husband and upon hearing me sing the “try it. You’ll like it.” portion my 13 month old started clapping! Pretty much sums up my world lol.

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Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore July 27, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Interesting post, Benjamin. Just recently, I was interviewing someone for a magazine article. She mentioned her three-year-old daughter and how NOT sheltered she has been from the origins of her food. From what her mother said, it sounds like the girl is nonplussed.

In response to “What should we have for dinner?”: “Died pig!”

Upon her mother’s return from the woods: “Mommy, did you catch a deer?”

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 12:45 am

Thanks for chiming in, Tovar. You have a fascinating story, and I’m looking forward to reading your book.

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Hanna July 27, 2011 at 5:14 pm

This reminds me of when I was little, maybe 7 or 8 years old, and going with my mom to the Korean mart for groceries, as usual. There was always that wooden crate full of live crabs and tongs stuck on the side to pick what crabs you’d like to buy. I always passed slowly by the crabs to stare and talk at them. One day, my mom decided we’d have crabs for dinner, so she popped several into a brown paper bag and away we went. On the drive home, I got to sit next to the crab bag and peek inside. Fun!

At home, my mom promptly rinsed off the crabs (I still don’t know how she could handle them with just her hands) and put them into a big pot of water. Onto the stove went the pot; the burner turned on. I stared at the pot for a second, listening to the crabs scuttling around inside, and asked, “Won’t they get hot after awhile?” My mom responded with, “Don’t worry; they stop moving and change color soon. Then we eat them.”

It was, ahem, a startling introduction to killing your own food. But I remember rationalizing it at the time with “I wasn’t the one to actually touch/kill them” and later eating crab for dinner. It was tasty.

Thanks for the gomtang recipe! It’s such a comforting cold weather food, but I always like it after getting a stomach bug.

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 12:51 am

We ate crab a lot, and they scared the bejeezus out of me. I was similarly weirded out the first time I dropped a crab into boiling water, but I do believe that it’s among the more humane ways to kill them. They die almost instantly.

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Jackie July 27, 2011 at 6:53 pm

When I was about 6 or 7 it was Christmas time and because my parents were “cool” parents they let me have a small glass of champagne to celebrate. About twenty minutes later I was bawling my eyes out about Babe and saying how cruel it was to eat animals, whilst simultaneously stuffing my face with roast lamb.

Loads of kids don’t know where their food comes from, so used to having everything served up on a plate in familiar forms. It’s important to know, regardless of age, about the environment, about death, about food; however I totally understand you wanting to protect your little one – innocence is bliss, after all. I grew up eating all the weird and wonderful parts of the animal and it never really occurred to me that it was weird… except for that one Christmas incident. I think it’s made me a very well rounded person, though. Both figuratively and literally – give me any animal and I’ll eat it!

Also oxtail is one of my all time faves. Just sayin’.

Jax x

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 12:56 am

I had a sip of champagne at about the same age and found it alarmingly disgusting. I had to wash the taste from my mouth with plenty of Peking duck.

Yeah, I instinctively didn’t want Esme to feel conflicted about the animal thing. But I think conflict is good, in this case. It means you’re thinking about it.

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Lawyer Loves Lunch July 28, 2011 at 9:29 am

I grew up in Pakistan where once a year, I’d peer out my window as people slaughtered animals for the festival of Eid. My parents didn’t shelter me because their parents probably didn’t shelter them. And while it’s unlikely that Mini Me will see any animals being slaughtered (I think that’d be too much for the people of suburbia), we hope to talk about sustainable eating early on. That, and cool music, of course!

PS: How does your sister get the kids to bed at 6 p.m.? That sounds like utter genius.

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 12:59 am

They go to bed a little later now, but it was good while it lasted. The flip side is that they get up at 5.

Regarding the music, you’re good until they go to school. It’s the other parents that are the problem.

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Danielle July 28, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I had a friend in school who would point out cows and sheep on TV programs and tell them that’s dinner. Brutal, but oh so necessary. I grew up with no attachment to cute little pigs, sheep or chickens as long as they tasted good, but rabbits? I still can’t bring myself to eat them today.

Thanks for the recipe, I’m really fond of this cut of meat because it’s cheap and tastes better the next day!

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 1:02 am

The cheapest cuts of meat are always the best, aren’t they? I don’t have an emotional problem with eating rabbits. They’re cute, but not affectionate at all. Also, a little too lean for me.

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Danielle July 28, 2011 at 6:29 pm

To clarify – my friend was pointing out the animals to his younger, impressionable siblings!

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Mariko July 28, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Oh, but don’t we all gloss over carnivorous eating with our own fairytales?
Meat isn’t raised and butchered. It’s created by the supermarket and sold in plastic wrap.
I try not to think of that stuff either. Bones are nothing compared to skin, or little bits of feathers, though.

This is exactly why I tried to steer my daughter to They Might Be Giants kids’ songs albums. What I hate is when The Backyardigans theme song is in my head. It leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

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Ben July 29, 2011 at 1:04 am

Pretty soon, we’ll all be eating in vitro meat. A little FD&C Red #40 and no one will know the difference.

The Yo Gabba Gabba albums actually aren’t that bad. Lots of high profile indie rockers on there.

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Mariko July 29, 2011 at 11:03 am

True, but Try It, You’ll Like It, kind of drives me crazy.
I was very happy to see The Aquabats AND Leslie Hall on there AND lots of others (except the Jonas Brothers, Not happy to see them).

The writers just must be stoked. I didn’t realize that the YGG albums had the rockers on there. I’ll check it out.

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Ben August 1, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Esme loves that Aquabats song. And I loved seeing Cornelius owning it on the “Share” episode.

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Sunmi July 30, 2011 at 6:35 pm

My favorite story about kids learning where meat comes from is one I heard from a friend’s mother. One day when my friend was little, her family visited a farm, where she was charmed by a cute woolly lamb. That evening during dinner, she (my friend) asked what the meat was that they were eating, and her mom told her, “You know that lamb you played with today? It’s that lamb.” My friend thought about this for a moment, then held out her plate and said, “More lamb, please.”

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Ben August 1, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I’m sure it’s because the lamb had been taunting her.

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Camille July 31, 2011 at 4:00 am

Heh. I used to refuse to eat duck because my favorite cartoon characters were all ducks (Daffy, Donald…). I’ve since gotten over it. these days I have much bigger ethical issues with eating seafood than I do with eating terrestrial meats, as long as I know they’re free-range, antibiotic-free, and whatnot.

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Ben August 1, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I’ve recently gone sustainable-only on the seafood, and it’s rough going. So many favorites are now verboten. I’m also trying to limit the terrestrial meats. I do think that using the less-popular cuts (like oxtail) helps reduce waste.

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Jamie @ Wokintime August 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I love this post! I think I’m more afraid of eating animals I cook rather than my 4 year old daughter. Case in point – my father in law was cleaning fresh crab the other day and I couldn’t even look as he scrubbed its poor eyes out with a metal scrubber while it was still alive. My daughter simply said – “just kill it already gong gong.”

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Karen Evans August 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I LOVE IT !! I have four grown boys and soon to be eight grand children, and I have told them from the start where our food comes from. I have also took them out to farms and showed them what our food is, and 2 of them have worked on farms growing up. There is nothing wrong with being honest with your kids ! The only ones that can’t be honest, are the parents of the panty – waist – sissy – boys of tomorrow !! Teach your kids the truth and they will respect you more in the long run and not be afraid of their own shadow !! Get it together parents and quit waiting for somebody else to teach your kids what the real truth is !!!
Karen

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SB August 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm

My mom makes the best oxtail soup ever. She never put seaweed in it though. I don’t know why it never occurred me to make it myself!

I love that you soak the oxtails in cold water. My mom does this too. Your blog reminds me of my mom so much :)

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Ben August 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Gotta do it! So easy, so good! My mom blanches the oxtails first instead of soaking. That works too, but it’s a little messier, as you have to replace the water and rinse away the coagulated blood. Also, it’s more typical to garnish with strips of the kim over the top. That’s tougher to photograph, because the strips get soggy immediately. So I just decided to cop the style of plating that I see in ramen shops.

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RChristopher September 1, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I remember thinking the same thing before we became parents ourselves. And seeing how Good Night Moon is one of our son’s go to books, I’m guessing we’ll hold off on telling him where burgers come from. As for Oxtail Soup, I recall it being one of my mom’s favorite dishes. Funny though, she never made it for me. Probably because The Story of Ferdinand The Bull was one of my favorites. Still, I’m going to have to give it a try.

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Ben September 7, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Can’t believe I’ve never seen your site before. Gorgeous! Let me know how you like the soup!

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Eva Wong Nava September 3, 2011 at 12:10 am

I love your blog! I love it that you share precious moments food-wise with your daughter. I have two myself and tend to do sing the yo gabba gabba to the tune of try it, try, it, you may like it! Luckily for me, I haven’t scared them of yet and the girls are always gamed to try anything, although the 13 yo is becoming squeamish about unidentifiable bits of meat floating in sauces whilst the 5 yo is still innocent eyed and willing to stick her fork in. Wonder how long that’ll last?

I love oxtail soup and I will definitely try this one out.

Looking forward to reading your other posts. I’ve linked you to my blog too so that I can share the looooove!

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Ben September 7, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Thanks so much for reading. You should also check out http://www.beyondtheplate.net/ if you haven’t already. My favorite Singaporean blogger!

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Kelly Doscher September 22, 2011 at 3:02 am

I like to say it’s like eating the Warner Brother’s Cast. Luckily my 2 year old doesn’t know who the Warner Brothers are.

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lynn @ the actor's diet September 30, 2011 at 8:56 am

i think watching “charlotte’s web” made me want bacon more!

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Kyung October 27, 2011 at 6:07 am

This is my boys’ favorite winter meal. They suck out the marrow from the bones, nutritious and delish!

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