Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Beef Barley Soup

Now that the weather here in the Pacific Northwest has turned a bit, I decided it's time to start pulling out my fall favorites! Today will be beef barley, a vegetable-laden, hearty soup that, in my opinion, gets better after it's had a day to sit in the fridge. I really like it when it's super thick and the barley isn't chewy anymore. So lets get it started!

Beef Barley Soup
2 pounds stew meat (the least expensive beef I can find)
1 gallon good quality beef stock
5-6 carrots
4 ribs of celery
1 large onion
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cup pearl barley (i don't use the quick barley unless i have no other choice)
 2 tsp. pepper
salt to taste

Here's the barley I use:
(This is not a brand endorsement, it's just what is available where I live)

First, get your beef stock in a large pot. Make sure it's a pot that can hold more than a gallon, because you're going to be adding quite a bit to it. Get the stock simmering on low heat while completing all the other steps.
Rough chop the carrots, onion, and celery, remember, pieces shouldn't be any larger than what you can fit on a soup spoon. This is a good rule in general for soup. No one wants to have to cut anything up or try to bite through something when eating soup.
As you can see, this last time I added corn. You can really add any vegetable you like. I had gotten fresh sweet corn from a Bountiful Basket, so I cut 2 ears off the cob and added them in.

Next, make sure your stew meat is trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces. By trimmed, I mean cut off any extra fat or gristle. This is an important step because you don't want to have any excess fat floating around in the soup. Now you're going to want to brown the beef. Don't skip this step, because this is where are the meaty flavor in your soup comes from. You really want it browned dark, almost to where you think it is burned. Get a pan smoking hot, put the cut beef into it, and leave it alone. Also, make sure you don't overcrowd your pan. I usually do this step in 2-3 batches. If the temp of the pan drops too much, the beef will just boil and not have a crisp, brown sear to it. Give the meat a few minutes to really gain a dark color before you start moving it around in the pan. Continue until it's seared nicely on all sizes, and looks like this:
Remove the beef from the pan, but don't put the pan in the sink just yet. Now add the browned meat and chopped vegetables into the beef stock. Heat the pan on medium, and add a tablespoon or 2 of the heated beef stock to loosen the browned bits from the bottom, then add the tomato paste. Continue cooking the tomato paste until it starts to brown. I think this adds a nice, complex roasted tomato flavor to the soup. My youngest won't eat tomatoes he can see in anything, but he loves this soup.
(This is the tomato paste once it's started to turn brown. In this pic you can see I added the onions as well to give them a bit of caramelization)

Once the tomato past is a light brown, add it into the soup as well, along with pepper and salt. I will taste the soup several times throughout the cooking time to see if it needs more. I like to go very lightly with the seasonings, as I can always add more, but once it's in there, you can't take it back out!

Now I just let it cook for several hours, stirring to make sure nothing is sticking. Leave it down on low, just below a boil. The last hour before I'm ready to serve it, I add the barley. It takes a while for the barley to cook, so I live to make sure it has plenty of time to cook up plump! (Yum!)

That's it! I like to serve this with biscuits or hot bread. This makes a big batch, so we usually only eat half of it the first night, then I have the rest for lunch during the next week! Here's a few pics of the finished soup!

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