Seolleongtang (Beef Bone Soup)

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, mandugukdoenjangguk, 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!

Ingredients:
3 – 4 pounds beef leg (marrow and knuckle) bones, cut up
1 – 2 pounds of meat (beef brisket or shank)

For serving:
cooked rice
cooked somyeon (or glass) noodles
thinly sliced meat (boiled in the broth)
lots of chopped scallions
salt and pepper

Preparation

Soak the bones in cold water to draw out as much blood as possible, about 2 hours (or longer if you have time). Rinse well and drain.

Soak the meat in another bowl to draw out as much blood as possible, about 2 hours. Drain. Keep it in the fridge until ready to use.

Parboiling

Add the bones to a large stockpot (preferably 8 quarts or larger) with enough cold water to cover. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, and boil for 5 minutes.

Drain. Rinse the bones, and clean out the pot to remove any brown bits. Return the bones to the pot.

Boiling

Fill up the pot with cold water, leaving a little room for boiling. Bring it to a boil over high heat, and reduce the heat to medium.

Cover, and boil until the broth becomes rich and milky, about 3 – 4 hours (or longer if you have time). Adjust the heat a little, if necessary, to maintain a moderate boil. (On my stove, this is somewhere between medium and medium low.) Add more water to cover the bones, once or twice while boiling. (This photo was taken at the 3-hour point.)

Add the soaked meat (and more water if needed to submerge the meat). Boil until the meat is tender, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Remove the meat. Once cooled, thinly slice the meat to add to the soup when serving. Pour the broth through a colander into another pot or a large bowl to cool.

Optional step (highly recommended)

Fill up the pot with fresh water again. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium. Cover, and boil until the broth becomes rich and milky, 3 – 5 hours. Reduce the heat a little, as necessary, to maintain a moderate boil. Add more water if the liquid reduces too quickly while boiling. Pour the milky broth through a colander into the pot or large bowl that contains the first batch. You can repeat this one more time, if desired. Just mix them all at the end to even it out.

Removing fat

You can use a fat separator to remove the fat, or keep it in the fridge (or out on the deck or balcony in the winter) until the fat solidifies to spoon off the fat.

Serving

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.

Freezing leftover

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Comments

  1. ¡¡¡ESPECTACULAR!!! Hace poco tiempo que conozco tu blog, me parece el mejor de todos los blogs asiaticos, y conozco muchos. Felicitaciones y este caldo lo haré me parece muy sano y las explicaciones fantásticas.
    Una pregunta: Qué es kimchi??. Gracias por tu generosidad. Saludos

  2. I love beef bone soup and now I know how to make the broth milky. I have learned so much from you. My love for Korean food out weighs my knowledge and I am grateful for your blog, it has taught me so much. Thank you Hyosun for sharing your wonderful recipes.

  3. Hi! This looks really good! In the Philippines, they used these soup bones especially for lactating mothers. It supposed to make them produce more healthy milk :).

    By the way, I love your recipes.

  4. this looks delicious! i make bone broth often but i’ve never made milky broth. i will make this soup very soon!

  5. This is my favorite soup during the winter months.

  6. Oh what a mouthwatering pictures. Wonderful rich and delicious soup. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Katherine says:

    Now I know the secret to making a milky broth. I tried making several of your recipes and everything works out better than I expected! I am not a great cook but your recipes are so easy to follow gives me confidence when I cook. Thank you so much.

  8. My husband love to have beef bone soup. This looks so delicious. Thanks for the recipe.

  9. Thank you for sharing :) Amazing recipe. Do you know if I can use a pressure cooker to make this soup (to cut down cooking time).

  10. mine turned out milky but rather brown :(
    any ideas on how to prevent that?

    • You can soak the bones and meat longer to draw more blood out. And do the optional step a couple of times. Each time the soup will get whiter and milkier. Hope this helps. Thanks for using my recipe and coming by to share the experience! Cheers!

  11. I love this soup! I will definitely try to make this at home for a homecooked version. However, I do most of my bone soups in the slow cooker. Will this soup work in the slow cooker?

    • Tiffany – For a milky broth, you need to boil moderately, not simmer, throughout the cooking time. The heat of slow cookers is not high enough to boil the soup, so the resulting broth will not be milky. Hope this helps!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hi Hyosun! Thank you for posting cooking instructions for Seolleongtang. I followed your steps exactly and the broth is nice and milky. I look forward to freezing a batch for future use. Again, thank you! ~Kara

  13. Hi Hyosun! You make cooking look so easy! I’m going to try making this. Do you think I could do this in a slow cooker?

    • Thank you, Alice! For a milky broth, you need to boil moderately, not simmer, throughout the cooking time. Because the heat of a slow cooker is not high enough to boil the soup, I don’t think the resulting broth will turn out milky. Hope this helps!

  14. Wow, I have been looking for this recipe for years!. I am of Guatemalan descent, but I grew up in Korea town.I had this soup dozens of times at my favorite Korean restaurant in LA, then i would run next door for Korean snow ball cookies. It’s been 7 1/2 years since I’ve had this, Thank you soooooo much for your wonderful blog. I will run home to make this!.

    • Hi Johanna – How nice you had a chance to live in LA K town. I’ve been there quite a few times. Korean food can’t get any better else where in the states. Hope your soup turn out well for you. Happy cooking!

  15. Awesome!

  16. This looks so delicious! My husband and I ate bone soup all the time when we lived in Seoul. I have one question though- if you make this the day before is it better to refrigerate and reheat for the meal, or leave it simmering in a covered pot on the stove overnight and the following day? I have made bone broth like this before and was wondering if the quality if the soup be okay after simmering for 2 days or so

  17. I just realized I bought ox tail instead and its not the same beef as u mentioned here :( its the wrong one and you dont have a recipe for the ox tail soup right? I want to make seolleongtang so I guess I will have to go back out and get the right one.

    • Ox tail is fine. It will be a little different, but there’s a similar soup made with ox tail, called kkori gomtang. Using the same method in this recipe, you boil until the soup is milky and ox tail meat is tender. I wouldn’t do the optional step for the ox tail soup. And satae (shank) meat is fine to add, but since ox tail itself has meat you don’t really need to add additional meat. If you decide not to use, you can freeze and use it when you actually make seolleongtang next time. Hope this helps, but let me know if you have any additional questions.

    • Thank you, you are very helpful! My grandma used to make kkori gomtang and it was so good! To make that do I need to also use knuckle and marrow bones when I boil the water or is using the oxtail bone fine?

    • You can do it either way, but using the oxtail bones will be just fine . The addition of the other bones will help make it milkier and richer, but I like it just with oxtail for its unique flavor. Enjoy!

    • Can I add daikon radish and onion while boiling with the meat? I am going to make the kkori gomtang today. :) Is this also ok for making seolleongtang?

    • yes you can. That’s common both for kkori gomtang and seolleongtang.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I am making this now, the boiled the bones with the meat and radish and onion first for about 3 hours but the broth didn’t turn white. I set that broth aside and filled the pot again with water and it’s boiling. If I mix the two broth together, will it still be white milky broth?

    • My direction says 3 – 4 hours with the bones and then add the meat to boil an additional 1-1/2 to 2 hours. If you only did 3 hours, you needed to boil longer or also maybe a little higher heat. Also, your heat might not have been high enough. Be sure to have a medium boil (somewhere between rapid and gentle boils). You can mix the first broth (without the meat) now and boil it together until it becomes milky. Since your first round of broth wasn’t milky, if you add it later, it will dilute the milky broth from the second round. If your pot is not big enough, wait until the second round of broth is milky and set that aside. Use the first broth to boil the bones the third time around if you want. Hope it works out for you.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I remade this again and it’s turning out great! There’s a red sauce that they give you at the restaurants, how can I make that red sauce to put in this soup to make it spicy? Thank you so much! For your blog and your recipes!

    • Happy to hear that! It’s basically gochugaru, minced garlic, and soup soy sauce mixed with some of the broth. Off the top of my head, for 3 to 4 tablespoons of gochgaru, 2 to 3 teaspoons of garlic, 1tablespoon of soup soy sauce (omit if you don’t have), and a few tablespoons of the broth to make it a paste. Thanks for using my recipe. Enjoy!!

  20. Hi there!

    I managed to purchase prepackaged Ox Bone Soup in a foil sealed package at a Korean Supermarket here in Australia. I was wondering if that should be okay to use or would the taste be different? And would I add beef and spring onions accordingly? :) Thanks in advance!

  21. How long will the soup last in the freezer?

  22. I love kori guk and wanted to try making sullung tang. I make pho pretty often but I have a hard time finding marrow. I usually go to Lotte for my meat. Where do you go to buy your bone marrow?

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