My mom learned to make gomtang from her mother, who was taught by her mother. It is a recipe that embodies generations of love and decades of nurture, which fed sick, feverish children and energized fatigued families. And so when my nurse mom, who had been tending to COVID-19 patients, came down with the illness during a New York City nightmare of ventilator scarcity and anti-Asian violence, I reached for this soup. But that time—and for the first time—I cooked it for her.
I made a set-it-and-forget-it Instant Pot rendition that night, but my mom would boil it for hours, even days. After the first batch of soup is consumed, we would fill up the pot of bones with more water and boil again for another four hours or so. To achieve the creamy white color, the soup must be boiled with steady medium-sized bubbles. Aside from this one simple rule, there is no real wrong or measured way to make this. The bones can be reused until they no longer grant a rich flavor.
My mom’s gomtang is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a gift traditionally given by Korean mothers to their children, but during a public health crisis—of the viral and racial sort—it’s a gift given by this one particular daughter to her mother.
Note: Once done, the bones are still good for more soup. And it's not necessary to empty the broth from the pot. Keep boiling the bones with garlic, to taste, another 3 to 4 hours, adding boiling water as you go. (There's no science to this. We'll have this boiling on the back burner for days. If we want it more garlicky that day, we add garlic.)
Test Kitchen Notes
Featured in: A Nourishing Soup To Heal the Cracks. —The Editors
- Prep time 1 hour
- Cook time 5 hours
- Serves 4
3 1/2 pounds
cow heel bones
5 to 6
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cooked short-grain white rice, for serving
- Soak the cow heel bones and beef brisket, separately, in water for at least an hour.
- Smash the garlic.
- Rinse the bones. Fill a pot with water, leaving room for boiling. Bring the pot to a boil. Add the bones and garlic.
- Boil (not simmer) over medium-high heat, with constant medium-size bubbles, for at least 5 hours. About 1 hour into boiling, add the brisket and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until soft. Add more boiling water when the liquid level in the pot drops.
- After 5 hours of boiling, the broth will turn thick and white. Hand-shred the brisket into chunks and chop scallions for garnish.
- Ladle the soup into a bowl. Leave all the bones in the pot so that you can keep boiling the other batches. Top with shredded brisket and scallions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cooked rice.