The Beef Barley Soup Experiment

One of the nice things about living in the south and being from the north is that, to me, it really never gets all that cold here. Well I can neither say that for the last couple of weeks in December this year nor for the first couple of weeks in January. It has gotten to be bone-chilling cold, well, at least for this demographic.

We eat a lot of soup during the cold months. Actually we eat in during the warm ones too, but more so in the winter. I always look for the BOGO (buy one get one) specials at the local supermarket on Campbell’s Chunky soups or the Progresso soups. So despite having a well stocked pantry with a variety of Chunky soups among others, I decided to try my hand at making a pot of soup each weekend.

This was indeed an experiment that actually turned out pretty well. It was labor intensive, but the payoff was fantastic.

For this soup, I decided to use the cheaper, but extremely flavorful cuts of beef. I chose to use three short rips and a beef shank; a really big shank. I braised them, then I let them sit overnight, and then braised them again. Yes, this isn’t a dish to prepare on a Tuesday night. I started it on Saturday and we were eating it on Sunday, just in time for kickoff.Here are the fresh cuts of beef. There is very little marbling so the meat is very lean. The beefy flavor is tremendous though. These cuts fare well with long, slow cooking methods just like a shoulder, or “butt” would fare well with an 18 hour smoke.
The ingredients for the braise:

3 beef short ribs
1 large or two small beef shanks
2 cups beef stock
1 cup red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon – moderately priced)
6 whole cloves of garlic
1/2 a sweet onion sectioned
6 sprigs fresh thyme whole
1 tbsp olive oil
liberal amount of salt and fresh gound pepper

You’ll want to salt and pepper the cuts on both sides and leave out for about an hour so they can come to room temperature.

You want to sear the cuts first. Heat a large pan over medium high heat. This was a stove-top braising rather than oven braising for this dish, so the pan doesn’t have to be oven proof. Add the olive oil and when it is shimmering, add the meat. Don’t touch it or move it around. It will sizzle and pop so please, DON’T DO THIS NAKED!

Let the meat sear for about 3-4 minutes and flip. You should have a good sear.After another 3-4 minutes reduce the heat to medium and add the aromatics, the thyme, onion, and garlic. Then gently add the stock and wine.

When the mixture is simmering, cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Grab an adult beverage and let this braise for six hours. Yes, six of them.

When the braising is complete, the meat will literally be falling off the bone. Don’t do anything to disturb the marrow in the shank bone. You want that to add some extra special goodness to the liquid that will become the soup stock base.

Now that the first braise is complete, let the pan cool then put it in the refrigerator, or in my case, the garage. It was that cold when I made this.

Start in the morning the next day if you want to have this for lunch. When you retrieve the pan you should have a nice solidified layer of fat/grease visible on the top of the stock. Now, I love pork fat, but this stuff, in Alton’s words, “is NOT good eats”. So you want to carefully scoop the solid greasy stuff from the top and save it for you mother in law’s fruit cake. Makes a great frosting!

After removing the enemy fat, place the pan over medium heat and let it come to a simmer. Scoop the marrow out of the shank bone if it already isn’t out. It doesn’t need to simmer for a long period of time now. The over night party got all of the flavors mingling, just like any over night party gets the all the playas mingled.

While the base is coming to temperature, prepare the soup ingredients. For this soup I used:

1/2 lb ditalina pasta (“Little Thimbles”)
2 medium vidalia onions sliced(2 leeks or 1/2 onion could be used)
1/2 cup carrot diced
1/2 cup celery diced
1 cup barley
1 tbsp olive oil
6 cups of beef stock (I found that I needed a lot because of the barley and pasta)
salt and pepper to taste
(the Warsteiner is mine – calms my cooking nerves – it’s in the pic by the squash – a chopping aidHeat a large stock pot over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and when it is shimmering, add the mirepoix (the onions, carrots, and celery). Add a generous pinch of salt.While the vegetables are softening, separate the stock and meat and strain the stock. Using two forks, or your hands if you want, pull apart the meat, leaving a pot roast consistency. Skim any fat from the stock.When the vegetables are soft, add the barley, meat, meat stock (from the braise), pasta, and barley. Reduce the heat to medium. Stir it well. Then add 4 cups of the remaining beef stock. Cover and let simmer for 11 minutes. If, after the 11 minutes, the liquid is reduced too much, add the remainder and simmmer on low for 20 minutes.