A Lifetime of Beef Soup

When I was growing up, dinner time on weekdays was always at 5:00 pm. and my mom always cooked it. Then when I was in seventh grade she started a full-time job so we had a dilemma: how to keep the 5:00 pm. dinner time when she didn’t get home from work in time to cook it.

My older sister couldn’t take over, because she didn’t get home in time from her high school in the city. I got home by 3:15 pm. because my grade school was two minutes away, so my mother made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: $5.00 per week to make dinner Monday through Friday.

Five dollars a week was a lot of money in 1965 and a real windfall for me. I could buy all the candy and potato sticks I wanted and could even buy clothes. Better than the money was the discipline of putting a meal on the table every day for two years. By the time I left grade school I was an experienced and enthusiastic cook.

Childhood

The meal I remember the most from those two years is beef soup. I loved beef soup as a kid. It’s the perfect hearty soup for a child, combining the coziness of soup and the known ingredients (kids can be squeamish) of meat and potatoes.

In those days I was very strict about beef soup ingredients. I would only allow beef, potatoes and carrots, period, in the final product. It’s hard to remember, but I think the reason I was so strict was partly squeamishness but mostly because I had an image in my mind of a perfect soup.

Beef Soup in 1.5 hours

  • Come home from school at 3:15 pm
  • Run across the street to Miller’s Market
    • Charge two pounds of stew meat and ask for free soup bones
  • IMMEDIATELY put the soup bone on to boil in the soup pot with salt and pepper
  • Peel a big onion and cut two washed celery stalks in half. Throw in soup pot
    • Add bay leaf if available
  • Boil soup bone furiously
  • Cut the stew meat into smaller pieces and brown
  • Peel four or five potatoes and three or four carrots and cut into bite sizes
  • Pour a cup of water from the soup pot into the browned stew meat to get all the flavor
  • Add meat and juices to soup pot around 4:15
    • The meat needs at least a half hour to get tender
    • Keep boiling furiously.  (Not a sophisticated technique!)
  • Periodically skim the fat from the boiling pot
    • Skimming fat is easy, it collects on one side
  • Around 4:40 pm., remove the celery, onion and soup bone and add the potatoes and carrots
  • Lower the boil and cook potatoes and carrots
  • Flavor with secret ingredients
    • Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, dried herbs, salt and pepper, dot of Tabasco
    • Keep tasting and adding

Serve with:

  • Garlic bread baked in hot oven: Italian bread, margarine, and garlic salt
  • Salad of iceberg lettuce torn, washed, and dressed with “salad oil” and vinegar. This exact salad was served in 99% of all our family dinners.

Youth

After I left home and before I had my first kitchen, I still made beef soup.

  • Popcorn popper beef soup, outside my summertime rented room in Wildwood New Jersey. I don’t think a soup bone was involved! The technique was 1) plug in the popcorn popper until the boil got too high, then 2) unplug the popcorn popper for a minute or two. Stir and repeat until done.
  • Dorm lounge beef soup.  The dorm lounge had a good kitchen and I made my family recipe for about 10 friends. It was very successful, served with garlic bread, salad, and dining hall potato sticks. We inhaled.

Adulthood

When I starting living in apartments and later my home, I made a couple changes in the basic beef soup recipe.

  • Better soup stock, with more bones and longer cooking time.
  • Relaxing the vegetable rules a little. I now allow diced onions and celery to join the potatoes and carrots, as well as the odd parsnip in season. Green beans are a stretch.

Bone Broth, the Liquid Formerly Known as Soup Stock

Yes, it’s the same thing! I usually boil the bones for 4 – 8 hours. If there are enough bones it will jell nicely after refrigeration, releasing its nutritious calcium. I’m agnostic about cooking it for 24 hours.

Roasting bones before boiling is optional but adds color to the soup. If beef marrow bones are too expensive, use just a few and include cheaper pork neck bones.

Usually I prepare the stock a day ahead. You have to strain it.

Make stock with onion, celery, carrot, parsley, bay leaf, salt, pepper. If you must, save your vegetable trimmings for the stock. It’s a good idea; I got tired of it.
  • Finally, thickening the soup emerged in the recipe’s repertoire. I often combine two thickening techniques.

Secrets of Thickening Soup

  1. Potato mashed in broth
    • Cut in half and boil in strained stock while finishing soup, then mash
  2. Bread crumbs
    • Grate finely, add anytime
  3. Cup of roux using lukewarm stock
  4. Corn starch added at the end
    • Stir a scant tablespoon of cornstarch into a 1/4 cup of cold water and add to soup

Maturity

At some point I streamlined the whole beef soup process. Easy peasy: make three separate items, then combine.

Labor Saver Beef Soup

Quantities aren’t important. Soup becomes stew when there is less liquid, in which case thicken it more. The recipe I tested for this post used seven cups of stock (thickened slightly), five medium-small potatoes, and two carrots.

  1. Make soup stock the day before for easy fat removal
  2. Pot roast whatever beef is cheapest: chuck, round, London broil. You can totally do this a day ahead. This brilliant technique minimizes the effort required to produce tender pieces of beef.
    • Brown the roast in flour seasoned with salt and pepper
    • Add for flavor small amounts onion, celery, carrot, parsley, bay leaf, whole garlic cloves
    • Add 1/2 cup of liquid to hot pan. Adding more is a mistake.
    • Cover tightly and simmer 2 – 4 hours until meat is tender
    • Discard all veg except smoosh garlic with fork into liquid
    • Slice roast into bite-size pieces.
    • Hold beef and cooking liquid until time to add to stock
  3. In the soup pot, sauté a diced onion and two thinly sliced stalks of celery
    • If you like, use the fat from the stock you made
    • If you like, add a couple tablespoons of flour as the onions and celery cook to help with thickening
    • Add the stock and bring to a boil
    • If you like, halve a potato and cook in stock, then remove and mash with stock for thickening
  4. Steam the soup vegetables: another brilliant technique, eliminating the tedious checking to see if the vegetables are done in the stock
  5. Finish by adding to boiling stock:
    • Shredded beef and pot roast liquid
    • Steamed vegetables
    • Generous few tablespoons of minced parsley and other herbs at hand
  6. Thicken further if desired
  7. Cook gently for about 15 minutes, skimming the dross and tasting for seasoning, adding as needed salt, pepper, dried herbs, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, minute amount hot sauce

Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Lewis Carroll

5 thoughts on “A Lifetime of Beef Soup

  1. Loved reading the stages of experimentation with making Beef Soup! Good ideas for thickening soup and making preparations the day before for a smooth-running process!

    Like

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