Hack my beef barley soup
September 26, 2018 8:12 AM   Subscribe

I love beef barley soup. I find though, that it takes a long time to make. Help me with your recipe hacks and improvements. Fall is here, it’s soup time! My current version below the fold.

I don’t follow a strict recipe – but this is what mine usually involves: stewing beef – fat trimmed, cut into smaller pieces, dredged in flour then browned in batches (this takes a long time, as I often end up having to wash the pan in between batches), tomato paste, broth made separately in an instant pot, carrots/onion/celery cooked in the pot after the meat, add the meat back to pot with the broth, barley added the end, salt/pepper to taste, bay leaf, oregano, Worchester, grated potato to bulk it up a bit. Thoughts?
posted by walkinginsunshine to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I've never made beef barley but I've made a lot of soup. Some of the tricks i've used to up the flavor include:
- add a little soy sauce or fish sauce
- add acidity like lemon juice or wine
- roast the vegetables before adding
- lots of onion, celery, garlic
- add a little heat to the end - dash of hot sauce

Now i'm hungry for soup:)
posted by jraz at 8:20 AM on September 26, 2018

where are the mushrooms. this soup cries out for mushrooms.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:28 AM on September 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

like honestly duxelles with everything savory you eat, get a ton of mushrooms and make endless duxelles, it freezes well and you can just throw some in everything that needs more flavour.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:30 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love soup too - my grandmother's mushroom-barley soup used the Manishewitz cello-wrapped tube soup base but i just took a look at their current product line and honestly i cant tell if they still make it any more (there is a split pea w barley currently for sale but im pretty certain that wasnt the flavor she used - she died when i was 3, and that was the 80s, so your now getting that info third-hand).

one thing that you could try to expedite your existing process would be to brown the meat all at once in your oven's broiler - you'd get a little less of the delicious fond that forms from browning your flour-dredged chunks in batches, but it would all be done at once and you'd be free to work on other things while it was going. same size pieces you currently use, dried well with a paper towel, possibly tossed in just a tiny bit of vegetable oil to promote browning, laid in a roasting dish with space between them. Crank your oven as high as it will go and keep an eye on them/turning, until your happy w the color. after taking the browned chunks out of your roasting pan deglaze with a little stock to pick up the browned-on-the-pan bits.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:30 AM on September 26, 2018

I also love beef barley soup, and my favorite recipe comes from Jenn Segal. It takes 3.5 hours to make and the method is similar to yours: brown the meat in two batches and set it aside; soften the onions, celery and garlic; then add the meat, broth, tomato paste, and red wine. After simmering for two hours, the carrots and barley go in for another hour of simmering.
posted by DrGail at 8:31 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

My suggestions:

1 - Have some broth on hand at all times. Freeze it if you can't use it right away, and thaw before soup-time. You can always buy good boxed, low-sodium broth as well and dilute it with water.

2 - Make large batches of mirepoix (carrots, celery and onions) and freeze in recipe-sized batches. Thaw when needed.

3 - Brown the beef in the soup pot. Scrape and deglaze with a little wine, beer or good vinegar between batches so that you don't need to wash the pot. Take out the browned beef and deglaze again.

4 - Add a little more oil and gently cook the tomato paste and thawed mirepoix until the tomato paste has a deep colour. (Mushrooms would be a nice addition at this point!)

5 - Add the beef, broth/stock, seasonings and a SMALL amount of RAW barley and start cooking. Remember you need 3 parts liquid to one part barley to cook it as a side dish, so whatever barley you put in will expand its volume substantially. Try 1/2 cup raw barley to 8 cups liquid the first time, adding some cooked barley later if you need more. You'll figure out your ratio soon enough. Raw barley that's cooked in the soup will also cast off starch, so you really won't need to add bulk/thickeners.
posted by maudlin at 8:36 AM on September 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

(If your meat is very tough and requires more cooking time, go for a total of 2 hours of cooking: meat/veg/broth for one hour, then add barley and cook for another hour or so, making sure the barley is the right texture for you. I sometimes cheat and use ground beef instead of stew beef and add everything at once so that it's done in about an hour total.)
posted by maudlin at 8:42 AM on September 26, 2018

An old Cook’s Illustrated stew hack is to only brown half the beef and just throw the other half in. You’ll get that Maillard reaction flavor in half the time with half the effort. Also, no real need to dredge the meat; just salt and pepper is fine.
posted by padraigin at 8:50 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Similar to the CI trick: brown the meat before cutting it into chunks.

If your broth doesn't have enough gelatin to turn solid in the fridge, bulk it up with powdered unflavored gelatin.

Add anchovies and/or marmite.

Cook it in the oven with a slightly-ajar lid instead of on the stovetop. Has the convenience advantage of being much more hands-off.
posted by supercres at 8:59 AM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Alton's got you covered. This is a veggie soup, but I add meat. After the mirepoix, I brown the beef, remove any fat, add the mirepoix back in and continue on.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:08 AM on September 26, 2018

Toast the barley before adding it into the soup and let it bloom fully - the released starch should do the thickening.

Before adding the broth back in, make a space on the bottom of the pot and put in a little fat/oil and any dry spices (the bay and oregano) and let them infuse.

Add smashed garlic to the tomato paste and mushrooms to the mirepoix.
posted by Mizu at 9:11 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Add dried mushrooms for an even simpler way to get mushroomy umami flavour. Sherry, for sweetness and winey-ness.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 9:12 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Since you're already using an Instant Pot, which is what I was going to suggest, I think you just need to follow maudlin's suggestions. We make beef barley soup at least once a week in the winter in our Instant Pot, but I don't make broth at the same time; I have that on hand in the freezer. I brown the meat and onions first but otherwise just put everything in together; I think I give it 12 minutes and then natural release. It's never going to be instantaneous, but that does pretty well.
posted by xeney at 9:33 AM on September 26, 2018

I just chuck everything in at the beginning, but I use short ribs for maximum flavor and thickening. So much simpler. I use Smitten Kitchens recipe.
posted by ananci at 10:03 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding searing the meat in steak-sized pieces before cutting them into chunks. What takes longer, browsing a bunch of stew bits or cutting up a few steaks?

You have a solid basic recipe though. If you really want to go nuts use two sets of veggies. One for developing the broth and then get those out and add fresher ones towards the end of the cooking so they just soften a little and still have flavor. It's more expensive, but we're talking carrots and potatoes and stuff here so it's not that much more expensive.
posted by East14thTaco at 10:13 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Brown the beef in the soup pot, all in one go. It will stick, but then turn into delicious broth when you add your water and veggies etc and boil it a while.
Good soup can’t be rushed. You can make decent soup in under an hour, but not great soup.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:25 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can also toast the barley ahead of time for extra brown yummy flavor. Or even brown it in the pot before yuh brown your beef. Do it dry, and remove the barley before adding oil.

That’s another tip: mince the fat fine and it will render away to almost nothing and add a ton of flavor. If that is unacceptable, be sure to add in some good fat: coconut oil (refined), butter, lard, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:35 AM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Don't cut up to sear. Sear the meat in steak form them cut. You get the flavor & less of the futzing.

But you don't have to sear meat to get the malliard reaction, it requires temperature to occur, the only way you can get high enough temps at one atmosphere (ie without a pressure cooker) is usually through dry heat like searing or roasting, but in the pressure cooker that is not a problem. Those temperatures occur because of the increased pressure, if you're worried adding a pinch of baking soda to increase the ph of the dish can also help. If you were making something other than soup where the texture of the meat was more important I'd possibly keep the browning step, but with soups & stews I never bother any more, no one has noticed a difference.

Also add some gelatin for a richer mouth feel.
posted by wwax at 11:47 AM on September 26, 2018

I no longer make beef barley soup all in one day, including browning the meat. Instead, I plan to make it with leftover meat from earlier dinners. Flank steak is a favorite, but leftover pot roast will also work.

This makes soup prep on another day easy, and shortens the process. Make the soup as a vegetable barley soup with a good quality beef broth from the market, or use previously made beef broth you've strained and chilled, then skimmed the fat from. Broth freezes well, too. Also add any saved juices from your meat. I add the previously cooked meat (cutting into bite-sized pieces is much easier if it's done when the meat is cold) at the end, after the soup is otherwise ready to eat. Adding the meat at the end prevents it from overcooking and toughening.

This method allows me to make beef barley soup in under an hour. You just have to plan ahead for leftovers so you cook a large enough slab of meat.
posted by citygirl at 12:32 PM on September 26, 2018

Chuck steak - the nastier and gristly the better. For a 3 - 4L batch, I usually get two kinda big ones, like, they'll just fit into my cooking vessel.

Season with salt (important, don't fear the salt), I don't bother dredging it.

On high heat, sear the heck out of the steak, one at a time. Maybe 2-3 minutes on a side. The salt helps the maillard reaction.

Remove from vessel, set aside in a lidded dish/pan. Juices will run out. Let rest for five. Transfer to cutting board, cut ~1.5 - 2 cm thick slices. The middle should still be blue/ uncooked. Cut slices into 2 cm wide chunks. Throw into cooking vessel, pour juices into cooking vessel.

Add vegetable chunks that you like. I do carrots and celery. Add 2- 3 cans of condensed beef broth. Add 3 more volumes of water. Bring to boil, using a wooden spatula, scrape the bottom of the vessel, simmer ~45 minutes.

Add in a cup of barley (I don't bother washing mine, the extra barley starch helps thicken the soup), continue to simmer for ~15 minutes; the barley should be done, you might have to add more water. Season with salt, pepper, whatever as needed.

Sometimes instead of adding raw carrots, I'll throw in some frozen carrots/peas in at the end for a few minutes.

This freezes very well.
posted by porpoise at 3:04 PM on September 26, 2018

I pert near had a heart attack when you said you had to wash the pan between meat batches! Because that is flavor going down the drain!!!1!

If it's the case that the high walls of the kettle are making the meat browning process so onerous, I'd do that part in a wide, non-stick skillet, deglaze when it is done, then toss that in with the mirepoire sautéing in the kettle.

+1 for skipping the dredging ... for stews that step makes a roux that will thicken the liquid, but it seems unecessary for a soup when theres the barley startch involved.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:33 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Agreed - if you want to thicken your preparation, a roux post stew is far superior taste-wise and much more controllable.

You can even use the rising fats from the stew as the basis of the roux.
posted by porpoise at 9:53 PM on October 1, 2018

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