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Eating for a strong spine: How to prepare and cook with Ox feet

November 16th, 2008 · No Comments

One of the questions I frequently get asked as a Taijiwuxigong teacher or Buqi healer is ‘What can I eat to improve the strength in my spine?’  If we look at Buqi aetiology we can see that central to the onset of disease is a pathogenic narrowing of the inter-vertebral spaces in conjunction with the presence of binqi (toxins of various origins).  Taiji37, Taijiwuxigong and Buqi help to treat and remove the binqi that arise from this process and lenghthen the verbebrae. Exersise should be foremost in our mind when trying to break the vicious cycle and improve our health.  However, there are a number of lifestyle changes we can make to support this, especially with respect to food and nutrition.  I will be writing a few articles over the next year to give some guidance on this and suggest some feasible changes that can fit into the lives of the modern practitioner.  Firstly, I would like to talk about preparing ox hoof extract-a gelatinous product added to soups and stews which I have found to be excellent for the health and improves the quality of my practise.

Customs and Cultural Habits


The post war English have lost their habit for eating offal and other cuts of the animal.  Often when I advise my patients to eat different cuts of the animal expressions of disgust, bemusment or curiosity follow.  However, there are many benefits to eating parts of the animal that are generally considered strange or unpalatable.  As a culture, the English tend to eat only muscle meats (like chicken breast, rump steak or topside) and have developed an aversion to other parts to the animal.  This aversion is not always found in other cultures.  A walk down my local high street show butchers of Turkish, Afghanis and Pakistani origin selling cuts of meat to a predominantly Muslim market which include along with the usual like liver and kidney other uncommon items like ox feet, lamb feet, chicken gizzards (stomach), lamb fries (testicles), lamb sweet breads (pancreas or thymus gland), lamb neck and a variety of bones.   

The modern English tend to buy their meat from super markets who sell an often limited range of cuts which are aimed at a popular market who tend to view non-muscle meats with aversion.  Despite this phenomenon traditional English butchers still exist such as in Borough Market where you can buy some delicious pig trotters as well as decent fish mongers.  I once bought a whole cod spine and head for one pound and made about two gallons of delicious stock from it! As well as the nutrition from the bones, fish is high in chromium which helps to regulate weight.  Delicious soups can be also made with ham bones which can be bought from various delicatessens and after boiling for some time the nitrates seem to be less toxic.  Also Morrison’s do some decent cuts for making soups such as pork knee and even pig skin-a must if you want to keep yourself looking young!


Meat and Health



A habit of restricting your diet to only one type or cut of meat, or in the extreme, abstaining from meat all together (vegetarianism) may cause health problems.  In Chinese medicine it is observed that different parts of the animal can benefit different parts of the body.  For example eating chicken gizzards can treat patients with diabetes or drinking soup made from bones can treat osteoporosis. 

Towards the end of the last Yi Jin Jing weekend Dr Shen began treating a girl from Bristol with vigorous neck cracking manipulations to correct her cervical vertebra. He told her she needed to eat richer foods to increase the globulin in her blood.  Enriching the blood would mean there would be sufficient osmotic pressure in her body fluids to keep the spine straight and healthy. Dr Shen went on to concede that although being thin meant she looked attractive, it did not necessarily mean healthy.  He went on to suggest that people often deprive themselves of essential nutrition because of a mistaken belief that they may put on weight or that certain foods, like meat, are bad for you.  People also have a habit of following modern trends expounded in the media that encourage, from a Chinese medicine point of view, unhealthy nutritional habits.  It is understandable that some people like vegetarians may take exception to the idea that meat is an essential part of a person’s diet but it is made withing the context of a paradigm that has developed its theories over several millenia. This has in turn informed and enriched cultural practices like cooking and dining.  Any offence to vegetarians is unintended.    

This article however is about extracting the collagen from the sinews of ox feet that surround the small carpel and meta-carpel bones.  Extracting this and using it in cooking can increase the strength of the spine especially the cervical and thoracic vertebrae.  In addition to this, this extract can be a very palatable way to increase the amount of collagen in your diet.  It improves the viscosity of a sauce in a way that other thickeners like corn flower or tapioca starch (dian fen) just cannot achieve.  Everyone I have given this recipe to and who have tried it find it really delicious and beneficial to their health.

Ox Hoofs

Buying Ox hoofs

Local halal butchers of Pakistani origin or of Turkish origin often see ox hoofs.  When buying the hoofs ask the nice man behind the butchers counter to saw them up for you because you will wreck any knife you try to cut them with.  He should have a saw to cut them with.



Wash them, then boil them in a slow cooker for 12-24 hours.  This process dissolves all the sinews. This leads to the hoofs separating into the bones, skin, fat and a gelatinous liquid .  As you run your spoon through the liquid you will see it to be a clear, thick liquid, covered by a layer of the fat.  The skin will be floating around too.   Strain out the bones and skin and discard the bones and keep the skin. Put it into a cold fridge.  When the fat has become hard take it off and you should have a hard jelly underneath.  Divide into portions and freeze.  Take out portions as and when you need them.




You can add this hard jelly to sir fries, soups or braised meats (about 50-100ml)


For example


Dun Rou (stewed meat (beef in this case)-this is very simple and delicious.

  1. Chop 1kg of stewing steak like shin or brisket into cubes.  Shin is especially nice if you keep the bone in the middle. Put into a large deep saucepan with some groundnut oil. 
  2. Fry with ginger, spring onion, ChinKiangvinegar or sherry or Chinese wine, soy sauce.  (Generally these four items are used in all stews. Meat can be cold in nature and the ginger heats it up.  it is also necessary in Chinese cooking as it warms the stomach aiding digestion.  The wine (albeit sour in the case of vinegar) helps to remove toxins from the meat).
  3. Cover with water and bring to boil.
  4. After a few hours the meat will be tender.  You can keep it in the fridge, ready to use when you need to for a quick meal. when ready do the following:
  5. Put the meat into a frying pan (the larger surface area will allow the water to evaporate and make the sauce deliciously thick).  Fry until the liquid has evaporated enough for the sauce to become thick (this is called ‘reducing’).  Add three or four tablespoons of the ox hoof jelly and carry on reducing until the sauce is sufficiently thick. season with salt.
  6. Garnish with coriander and a few drops of sesame oil.


  1. Add star anise or five spice power at stage three.
  2. Add a tablespoon of sugar at stage six 

Paya (foot soup)- With the skin of the hoofs you can make this lovely Punjabi dish called ‘Paya’. Punjabis also make this with lamb feet.

  1. In a hot frying pan roast about a half to a tablespoon of gram flour. Add a teaspoon of cumin seed and half a teaspoon of caraway seed. 
  2. Add a tablespoon of butter ghee together with the cooked skin of the hoofs. 
  3. Add some water to make a soupy broth. 
  4. Cook for about 20-30 min until it has thickened. 
  5. Spoon it out into a bowl and garnish with plenty of chopped coriander, fried onions, ginger slices and chopped green chillies.

Pig Trotters – this is more of a traditional European dish.  I once made this lovely stew with a homemade cyser.  Cyser is a welsh mead made from fermented honey and apple juice.  You ferment it until it is the strength of wine and it tastes like an apple and honey sherry.  It was superb. An alternative for people with less time on their hands I suppose would be the following:

  1. Get the butcher to split the trotters and then cut across (otherwise you will damage your knife).
  2. Fry the trotters in ground nut oil for a minute or so.
  3. Again use ginger, spring onion and soy sauce as in the the recipe above.
  4. Cover with cider and cook until the trotters are done.  This is called ‘braising’. 

Note: many producers use saccharine in their cider- I try to avoid them as i don’t like the taste. However, you may like the taste.  Try it and see what you like! Organic ciders may be a bit too expensive.  You can also use Calvados (a french spirit from apples).  Lidl do a good quality cheap one.  But combine it with water.  You can also make your own cider or cyser.  If you are interested drop me an email and I’ll give you some pointers.


Forthcoming articles


I have had this article in draft on my hard drive for about two years but one of my students asked me the question at the beginning of the article and I thought I should post what I have. It is still not finished as I want to add some more recipes including how to cook with Chinese herbs and medical functions of offal parts and some photos.  Look out for forthcoming posts.

Tags: Food, nutrition and adjuncts to Training