Beef Barley Soup
First Release: 16-Nov-10

The key to making good soup is to start with a well-made stock.  To do that you'll need to boil a bone-in piece of meat for several hours to release the collagens.  For best results make the stock the day ahead of the soup to allow time for cooling to remove excess fat.  (This applies to chicken and other kinds of stock as well.  Some people even break up the bones and... well, I'm getting ahead of myself).

The Stock

2 lbs of beef spare ribs or neckbones with meat on them
1 large onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
six peppercorns
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
(more ingredients are listed below for the soup)

Ok, this isn't an actual photo of one of our soups. It is just a 'stock' photo.  Ha - couldn't resist!

Place ingredients above in a large Dutch oven or stockpot.  (If you don't see a lot of exposed bone marrow you could break the bones into several pieces for better flavor)  Add enough water to cover the meat, which should amount to at least four quarts and perhaps six or more.  Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to medium to maintain a low simmer.  Skim the top when needed to remove scum.  Simmer uncovered for six to eight hours, replenishing with hot water as needed to keep all ingredients submerged.

Remove the bone(s), strip and reserve any pieces of meat that are large enough and gristle-free and put them back into the stock.  Remove large onion pieces if you find them unsightly otherwise leave them in.  Cover and cool the stock immediately by either putting it into a large cooler of ice or if you live in a cold environment (like ours) you can put it outside if it is well below 40F out.  The main thing is to cool it quickly so the temperature of the stock is only briefly in the 'danger' temperature zone of 40-140F.  We put ours outside on our concrete steps when it is 25-35 degrees outside (with the cover on, of course).  Place in refrigerator as needed to continue cooling, perhaps overnight if needed for the fat to come to the top and solidify.  Break the solidified fat into pieces large enough to easily hold and remove them.  The stock can then be stored in a refrigerator for several days or in a freezer for several months if desired.

The Soup

1lb stew meat
1T cooking oil
1/2 cup of flour (optional, as noted below, for a thicker stew-like soup)
Three large or four medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2" lengths
One large onion, chopped into 1/4" or smaller pieces
two stalks of celery, sliced into 1/4" lengths
Three quarts of the beef stock or use it up if desired
1/2 cup of medium pearled barley
28 oz container of "store-bought" beef stock - optional, see below
Beef "better than bouillon" or bouillon cubes to taste - optional, see below

If you're not sure how much barley you'll need you can make it separately by following package directions but substituting the beef stock for some of the water.  It can cook while you're doing the rest as follows.

Put the beef stock in a large Dutch oven or stockpot, bring to boil for a few minutes, then turn down until it simmers.  Cut the stew meat into 1/2" cubes (it helps to start with slightly frozen meat), brown in frying pan with cooking oil until medium-rare (check the inside of one piece occasionally).  For thicker soup you can coat the meat pieces in flour by shaking them in a quart-sized zip lock before browning.  Once the meat is done browning add it to the stock.  Deglaze the pan by first removing all loose chunks of browned meat, raise the heat under the frying pan to high until any coating on the bottom of the pan just turns dry. Turn vent fan on high, then quickly add about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of cold water to the pan to create steam and loosen the dry part from the bottom.  Quickly scrape the pan with the flat edge of a spatula to remove the browned part and add it to the simmering soup.  Repeat as needed to loosen the browned part (and also help to clean the pan!).  Using flour to coat the meat will result in more bottom-scrapings.  Get the pan just hot enough to dry the bottom a bit before deglazing - don't let it burn.  Well, if it burns a bit, taste it and decide if it is still usable before discarding.  (We use the browned parts even if they are heading toward dark, dark brown).

Depending on how tough the stew meat is you may need to let it simmer in the stock for an hour before performing the following steps.  If you don't mind your beef chunks to be a bit chewy, charge on...

Place the carrots, onion and celery into stock stock, bring it to a boil for at least two minutes, then turn to medium or low to keep it at a simmer.

Cover the soup and let it simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally, checking vegetables for desired cooked texture (I like the carrots to be firm but not crunchy).  Remove bay leaf.  Add cooked barley as desired just before serving.  Now, if you're good with barley, and someday I hope to be, you could cook the barley along with the vegetables until done, making sure to raise it to a boil first.  Like rice, the barley will absorb a lot of liquid so I prefer to cook it separately so I can keep the thickness of the soup to my liking without having to add water (which would dilute the flavors) or add extra store-bought broth or bouillon (which ought to be unnecessary).  Serves 8-10 Midwesterners.