Oxtail Soup from “Like Water for Chocolate”

Oxtail Soup from the novel, Like Water for Chocolate

It has been many years since I read Like Water for Chocolate and I had never made any of its dishes. When I recently leafed through it to check out the recipes — each of the twelve chapters has a recipe woven into the story — I could not help but be pulled back into this family saga of love and anguish, and the amazing dishes made by the youngest daughter Tita. Written in the style of “magic realism”, a genre common in Latin American literature, this is the story of one emoting, fantasy-driven family living on a ranch during the Mexican revolution.

Tita is forbidden to marry in order to stay home and care for her tyrannical mother. Unable to express her passion for her lover, Pedro, she pours her heart into her cooking, making dishes such as turkey mole with almonds, quail in rose petal sauce, and Champandongo, an exotically named casserole of meat, tortillas and cheese, all of which affect the passions of the eaters. One of these emotionally charged meals is the humbly named Oxtail Soup (Caldo de Cola de Res).

I do not have a source for organic rose petals, or even organic quail, but I can buy oxtail from Kenny’s Meat Market, our local carnicería which sells locally raised, range-fed beef. So called “oxtail” is beef tail, and not really from oxen. Cooking with oxtail is one more example of Mexican cooks’ preference, born of economy and thrift, to use all parts of the animal, something I admire in this culture. If you can’t find oxtail, meaty soup bones are a fine substitute. If you do buy oxtails, ask the butcher to cut it into 2-3″ lengths.

Oxtail Soup serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 lbs. (about 1 kilo) oxtails, cut into 2-3″ lengths
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • water to cover, about 2-3 quarts/liters
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 lb. (.25 kilo) green beans, cut into 2″ length
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chile with adobo sauce, seeded and finely minced
  • salt to taste
  • cilantro for garnish
  1. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and brown oxtails.
  2. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender.
  3. Add water to cover and simmer for 1 hour or pressure cook for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove meat to cool. When cool enough to handle, pull meat from bones, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Pour off stock and skim most of the fat from the surface, reserving meat and stock.
  5. In the same pot, heat oil over medium-low heat and cook chopped onion and garlic until translucent.
  6. Add potatoes and  stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes. Add green beans, tomatoes and chile and cook until all vegetables are tender.
  7. Salt to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro.


The original recipe calls for chile morita, a type of dried jalapeño. This chile may be difficult to find,  so I substituted chipotle chiles en adobo, smoked, dried jalapeño canned in a tomato and vinegar sauce.

Like Water for Chocolate was written by Laura Esquivel and published in 1992 by Doubleday. The title comes from the Spanish phrase, “Como agua para chocolate”.  Mexican recipes use water, not milk, to make hot chocolate. Chocolate melts when the water reaches a boil, so the phrase can mean one is boiling mad, or, as a double entendre, that one is erotically aroused, with both emotions evident in the novel.

Campbell sold oxtail soup many years ago in the U.S., but it seems to have disappeared from the stores. Tastes change through the years, but oxtail soup remains popular in Asian cuisine and in Great Britain.

More Mexican Soups:

  • Black Bean Soup with Chipotle Chile (cookinginmexico.com)
  • Albóndigas, Mexican Meatballs with Chipotle and Tomato Broth (cookinginmexico.com)
  • Chipotle Lentil Soup (cookinginmexico.com)
  • Caldo Pescado with Chipotle Chile (cookinginmexico.com)
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    33 thoughts on “Oxtail Soup from “Like Water for Chocolate”

    1. Tammera Espinal

      I like everything you said except letting the oxtails cool and pulling it off the bone. I prefer to serve the whole oxtail and when eating it to grab the bone and suck the bone and eat the meat off. That is more authentic. I have never seen any other recipes that say to cool the bones and pull the meat off. And when I’ve gone to restaurants that have ox-tails (that are readily available in a number of stores in the Houston area which has a large Central American and also quite a few Africans and Caribbean people. Oxtails is a dish eaten in Latin America, Jamaica and much of Africa. I’ve bought oxtails in the Jamaican and Soul food restaurants here and it is served with the oxtail pieces, bone and all.

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    6. Fort Collins, Colorado ox tail search report.
      None of the King Soopers had them in stock and all meat dept managers said they just don’t sell so they don’t stock them. They could special order if I would purchase a whole case.
      Safeway stores did not have them, same special order situation. But Safeway did have some gorgeous beef shank cross cut slices which I purchased in case there were no oxtails to be had.
      SAMS CLUB had them for $4.99 per pound but they looked unappetizing – grayish brown and more than half fat around the edges so would work out closer to $10 a pound by the time I trimmed and tossed. So even though I was excited to finally find some, I passed on those at SAMS and ventured on my quest.
      My last hope was Albertson’s the final grocery store chain in our area and they did have some beauties for $3.99 per pound.
      I bought a big batch and roasted them (and the shank slices) today for 4 hours in the oven, then made the soup. That is, after trimming fat and straining and separating the fat from the broth.
      Haven’t tasted it yet……..I’m freezing some so that we have “beef tea” next time either of comes up with a cold or the flu. If you don’t know about this, google “beef tea” – has quite a history.

      When searching to find the nutritional benefits of ox tail, I came up on this – any comments?
      “People, stay away from oxtails, or any other part of the oxen spine. It’s a lot easier to get mad cow disease by eating cuts near the spine, because of the high concentration of neurons there (which are the type of cell in which you find most of the prions that cause the disease). I suppose eating cattle brain would be even worse, but people don’t eat that part anyway.”

      What do you think?

      1. I’m glad you finally found some. Talk about persevering! After all this effort, I hope you think the soup is worth it.
        Re: mad cow disease. I had completely forgotten about this — I never hear anything in the news anymore about it. Personally, I would buy oxtail in the U.S., as it seems like it was something blown out of proportion by the media.
        I don’t make beef tea, rather I make bone broth weekly, a simmered pot of browned meatless and meaty bones, cooked with some lime juice to leach out minerals from the bones. I drink a cup a day in lieu of calcium supplements.

        1. That was my feeling on the mad cow disease too.
          I love the bone broth idea !
          We had our first ox tail soup yesterday (very similar to your recipe) and it was a great hit.
          Amazing after chilled in the frig how gelatinous the broth was.
          I have extra broth and meat now to use for Vietnamese Pho today.

    7. Pingback: Champandongo from “Like Water for Chocolate” « Cooking in Mexico

    8. Darlene

      It is a small world! I worked for King Soopers in Denver for almost 16 years before leaving Denver. It is a great company.

    9. Yvette, that is GREAT news ! I love shopping at King Soopers – great prices – and am headed there tomorrow so will let you know.
      Hope you are staying warm down there in Denver area – we have bitter wind and blowing snow. A good day for soup.

    10. Darlene

      I love this book, it was exciting to read. Believe it or not …
      Knorr used to make an Oxtail Soup Mix that was very tasty.
      Not sure if Oxtails can be found around here, but your soup makes me want to try.

      1. I did not know Knorr ever made oxtail soup. It seems to be a dish of another time, another place, a soup from novels, not from today. But it is too good to be lost from our tables. I hope you can find oxtails and make this soup.

    11. Vicki in GA

      Two of my favorite things: The book “Como agua para chocolate” and oxtails.

      I love the recipe you have shared with us, your readers. I can’t wait to try it.
      I buy meat from a local rancher, but the oxtail I buy is the entire tail, cut into two pieces.
      The first time I bought oxtail (for $2 a pound) from the ranch, I was a little taken back realizing how ugly the tail looks when it isn’t cut into sections. I braved it, cut up the tail, and found the meat lean and tasty.

      Remember Tita crying and her tears falling into the wedding cake for her sister and Pedro’s wedding?

      1. How do you prepare oxtail? You sound like an adventurous cook.
        And yes, I remember the tears falling into the wedding cake as she prepared it. I’m thinking of baking this cake — a smaller version — , but I won’t cry in it. :)

    12. Lorin Johnson

      The soup looks great! We can still find ox tails and ham hocks here. I’m on my way home from the office to cook two or three soups this weekend while it snows for the up coming week. Sure do miss that Mexican climate!

        1. Lorin Johnson

          Yes, I live in the U.S. I live outside of Scotts Mills, Oregon. I can still find ox tails and ham hocks and even smoked neck bones in several places around here. Our local grocery chain often has ham hocks and ox tails right in Silverton. I also go to Portland regularly and there are several stores with incredible butcher shops within as well as an outstanding one that stands alone. In Hubbard Oregon there is a great meat market/smoke house that does local custom work for those who raise their own and sells their products as well. We still have the mobile slaughter guys that take our meats to a number of custom places like that.

          1. Hi Lorin, I know your neck of the woods and can see where there would be lots of places to find specialty cuts. I’ll bet I’d have a better time finding some in one of the small towns east of us than in the “Fort” (Fort Collins, Colorado)…..a new project !
            I’m dying to make some ox tail soup !

            1. I just bought oxtails this weekend at our local King Soopers grocery store. I’m sure you’ll find some in Fort Collins :)

              Kathleen: I LOVE this book and will have to read it again for all the recipes. Its been a long time. Great idea to post about it!!! Looks YUMMY!

            2. Thanks for the King Soopers tip, Yvette. I hope our Ft. Collins reader can find some. I did not expect oxtails to generate so much interest. Obviously, this is a seldom discussed cut of meat that could be better appreciated.

    13. Yum and perfect for our upcoming cold weather.
      I love using my pressure cooker for pre-cooking bony cuts like this for soup or stew.
      But my favorite method is to roast the meats and veggies for soup and stew. The richness of flavor is unequaled.
      However, as I think about it, I do this more in the winter when it is cold and a little more heat in the house never hurts.
      In your climate you probably don’t look for reasons to use the oven.
      i wonder if I can even find ox tails in the Colorado grocery stores any more. I’ll check next week.
      Thanks for the great recipe and tantalizing photo.

      1. I avoid using the oven, for the reason you stated — our kitchen is usually warm enough, plus it saves energy to pressure cook on the stove. When I pressure cook, I first brown the meat and bones in a heavy bottomed pan for a roasty flavor.
        About finding oxtails, a full-service butcher department should be able to get it for you, but I read on the web that Asian grocery stores often stock this in the frozen section, often at a lower price then regular supermarkets. Apparently, Korea and China both value oxtail stews and soups, recipes I want to search for.

        1. It is sad but there are few full service butchers any more in the US.
          Almost no grocery stores cut their own meat anymore like they did even 10 years ago – they get everything in small retail chunks. So that’s why no bones or scraps for the doggies. But there are a few non-chain grocery stores in town that carry odd things – like ham hocks which also are getting hard to find….so I’ll check them out first.
          We have 2 Asian stores (40 miles away) with tea, noodles and a bit of produce but no meat at all, not even frozen. Denver (200 mile round trip) has great Asian markets but 200 miles is quite a trek.
          I googled oxtail frozen and there are great shops that ship in UK and Australia but so far no luck in US. Will keep looking.

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    15. Hello my name is Paul Jennette and I just recently came across your blog the other day…LOVE IT. For the last week I have been cooking authentic Mexican on my blog, and am using Rick Bayless as inspiration. And now I have found you guys, fate I guess. Thank you for inspiring me more. Again your blog is great and I look forward to reading it often. Have a great weekend!!

      1. Hi Paul,

        I’m always happy to spread some inspiration around, especially if it has to do with Mexican cuisine. Rick Bayless is one of my TV mentors, too. Thank you for your kind words, and please visit again.

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