Today, I'm going to demystify Seolleongtang (설렁탕) to convince you to make this restaurant favorite at home. Seolleongtang is a milky beef bone soup that's made by boiling down beef leg bones for several hours until the broth becomes rich and creamy white. This broth is a staple in Korean households, especially during cold winter months. Yes, it takes time, but most of it is stove time. You can do other things around the house while this is boiling away in the kitchen. The result is totally rewarding! A few dollars' worth of beef bones makes lots of rich and nourishing soup. Legend has it that this soup was created because King Seonjong of the Joseon Dynasty wanted to feed a large number of people after an ancestral worship ritual involving a sacrificial cow. Let me tell you -- the King had the right idea! You can feed your whole family and still have some leftover to freeze for later use. The broth is also great as a soup base for many other Korean soups such as tteokguk, manduguk, doenjangguk, and miyeokguk.
In making a Western-style beef stock or Vietnamese pho broth, the cooks aim for a clear, brown broth by simmering beef bones for many hours. In contrast, the goal of making seolleongtang is to achieve a milky white broth. What's done differently? It's the heat level! For a clear broth, the bones are gently simmered over low heat. Simmering, by definition, is cooking at the temperature below the boiling point with bubbles gently rising to the top. For a milky broth, you need to boil moderately, not simmer, throughout the cooking time.
There are no hard and fast rules about how much bones or water you need to use or how long you should boil. A few pounds of bones go a long way, and you can use as much water as your pot can hold. Don't throw the bones away after making the first batch of broth. Use them again to make another batch. The broth will be even milkier the second time around. I usually stop after the third batch. It's common to use aromatic vegetables, such as onion, garlic, and the white parts of large scallions. However, only using the bones will give you a cleaner flavor. It's a matter of personal taste. Try both ways, and decide which way you like better. Seasoning is usually done at the table by adding sea salt. You'll be surprised by how a little bit of salt brings out the complex flavor of the beef. The soup is also naturally nutty with a hint of sweetness. Delicious!
3 - 4 pounds beef leg (marrow and knuckle) bones, cut up
1 - 2 pounds of meat (beef brisket or shank)
cooked somyeon (or glass) noodles
thinly sliced meat (boiled in the broth)
lots of chopped scallions
salt and pepper
Optional step (highly recommended)
To serve, place some rice and, if desired, noodles in a serving bowl, add the meat pieces, and then ladle the hot broth on top. Typically, chopped scallions, salt and pepper are served separately so each person can season to taste. Serve piping hot with kimchi.