Comforting Beef With Barley Soup – It’s What’s For Dinner

Photo by Dave Wallis, Forum News Service

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RECIPE: Beef with Barley Soup 

In my previous life as a Cruise Director with Clipper Cruise Line, one of my very favorite dishes was their Beef with Barley Soup. Ever since retiring from shipboard life 17 years ago, I have regretted not leaving with a copy of that recipe.

Unlike the canned the variety, where all of the ingredients – beef, barley and vegetables – tend to have the same, soft texture, this soup had great texture and chunks of savory roast beef. After half a dozen attempts, I have finally developed a recipe that satisfies both my cravings, and my memories.

I wanted a cut of meat that would be tender after cooking in liquid for two hours, while still retaining its shape instead of dissolving into soggy shreds of beef. After sampling several different cuts, including short ribs and two types of boneless chuck roast, the unanimous choice in our kitchen is the shoulder cut of a boneless beef chuck roast, also the choice among the butchers I consulted. I use two pounds of chuck roast, which I have the butcher cut into two 1 ½-inch-thick steaks.

For this soup, how the beef is cooked is just as important as the cut you choose. I’ve found that browning the steaks in one or two large pieces helps prevent the meat from becoming tough and dry, as it can often do when browned in smaller chunks. Once well-browned, I let the meat rest until cool and then slice it into bite-size cubes. This process ensures that my soup is filled with savory, tender morsels of roast beef.

After removing the beef from the pot, a medley of diced carrots, celery, onion, leeks and garlic are added to the same pot and cooked in the savory brown bits left from the beef. To ensure that the veggies have great texture once the soup is finished, I only cook them for about six to seven minutes, just until they start to soften and become lightly browned. I then transfer them to a heatproof bowl , to be added to the soup later.

Even though this is a beef-based soup, my recipe calls for two quarts of chicken stock and just one quart of beef stock. Chicken stock (last week’s featured recipe), especially homemade, has superior flavor to store-bought beef stock, which is made mostly with yeast proteins.

Before adding the stock, I deglaze the pot with dry sherry or a dry red wine. The alcohol cooks off completely as the sherry reduces, and this added step brings wonderful depth of flavor to the soup. I also add two beef bones when cooking the stock, which ensure a strong beef flavor to the broth.

Barley has a lovely texture similar to pasta, and this cereal grain makes this soup both hearty and filling. For this recipe I use a cup of pearl barley, which I cook in chicken stock for added flavor.

This Beef with Barley Soup is warm, delicious and comforting, and I can’t imagine a better dish to serve at what ended up being the final photo shoot of Dave Wallis’s esteemed forty-year career as a photographer with The Forum. Dave is a photojournalist extraordinaire, and a true artist who always strived to make our food look its very best.  Tony, Gio and I are honored to have worked with him over the past five years and grateful for his dedication, professionalism, and most of all, his friendship. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Dave, we wish you all the best.

RECIPE: Beef with Barley Soup