Scotch Broth (or central heating in a bowl)

You can’t have failed to notice that it is absolute brass monkeys out there. With bells on. I’ve certainly never seen snow this early in the winter in London and I’m immensely grateful that I don’t really have anywhere to be for the next few days so I can stay indoors and stay warm. I could either run the heat all day or I could make a bowl of serious soup to banish the chills. It was time to break out the family recipe for Scotch Broth…

Giving my new wellies a workout, I visited the butcher in Market Row for some shin of beef (or apparently you buy something called ‘boiling beef’ in Scotland) to make the stock for this hearty soup. Around a pound of shin cost me just over two quid, making this an economical dish as well as a winter warmer extraordinaire. I stocked up on fresh parsely and celery and headed home to steam up the kitchen with delicious aromas.

I put the shin into a casserole with some carrot, celery, black pepper, bay leaf and an anchovy and covered with about two pints of water before simmering it for around three hours or until the meat could easily come away from the bone with just a fork, before disintegrating into sfot supple strands of beefy beauty. The stock had reduced to about a pint and half at this point even though I had topped it up a bit during the cooking, so keep an eye on it.

I then followed this recipe to make the soup which is from my dad’s side of the family and goes back to my great grandmother:

The recipe doesn’t have strict measurements, but makes a large pot for at least 4 people.

*Onions, chopped coarsely
*Leeks, halved and chopped
*Carrots, cubed
*Celery, cubed
*Scallions or spring onions, chopped
*Flat leaf parsely, chopped
*Dried peas, soaked overnight
*Pearl Barley
*White pepper
*Worcestershire Sauce

*Add the vegetables and the parsley to a large pot and sweat slightly in olive oil or butter to soften slightly. Add the peas and barley and cook for a minute or two in the veg and oil mix as you would do with risotto rice. Cover with the prepared meat stock. I usually add one pint of liquid to every 1/2 measuring cup of grains in the soup to get a ratio of stodge and slurpiness on the spoon as you eat. Bring this to the boil and then simmer for an hour or two. Only add salt at the very end of cooking to prevent the peas hardening as they cook. Extra chopped parsley is great at this point too.

*Cool the soup gently. Add a drop or two of Lea and Perrins at this point, stir well and add the meat. Leave overnight and reheat well the next day. It will taste all the better for allowing the flavours to infuse. Serve hot with chunks of bread.

This is incredibly easy to make. I quite like standing in the kitchen finely chopping veg and listening to Radio 4, marvelling at how middle class and grown up I am these days, yet wishing you could buy packets of soup vegetables in the supermarket here like you can in Belfast. I didn’t have any dried peas, so I just used pearl barley and put a bit extra in (around 3/4 of a cup in total) to make sure the soup was suitably replete. I didn’t have white pepper (who does) and I didn’t bother with the Lea and Perrins since I’d anchovied up the stock already.

After softening everything up and adding the stock, the soup bubbled gently on the stove for about an hour and a half until the barley was plump and chewy and the veg were soft and yielding. The consistency was that it was about three quarters barley and veg to a quarter stock in the pan. Once cooled, I added half the meat and heaps of parsley, both flat leaf and curly. The soup vegetables I mentioned earlier come with tonnes of parsley and for a taste of childhood, I wanted loads in there.

I put the soup in the fridge overnight, despite desperately wanting to get stuck and have a great big bowl of it immediately. Lunch couldn’t come quick enough and it was barely midday when I heated some of this up and devoured it. Leaving it all to infuse the flavours turns this from a nice bowl of soup to a real stunner. The meat had soaked up some of the stock and was incredibly tender and tasty. I love love love pearl barley at the best of time for its chewy deliciousness, but this was first class barley thanks to being so beautifully infused with meat.

I loved this. It warmed me to the fingers and toes and right to the cockles of my heart as it tasted of my childhood. In fact it was so good, I ending up eating two bowls full and toying with a third. The bread and butter on the side was completely forgotten and it’s not often that happens in my world!

2 replies
  1. Adriana
    Adriana says:

    I cannot wait to make this. There’s nothing I love more than long-simmered pots of goodies, which is decidedly inconvenient given my raging lack of patience. But this sounds well worth the wait.

    I’ve never cooked pearl barley before, though. Do I need to do anything to it before pouring it in? Do I pre-cook it? Massage it? Make it a cup of tea?

  2. miss_south
    miss_south says:

    I have infinite patience for anything this meaty and delicious…but I’m easily led. The pearl barley is super super easy in that you just bung it into the pot and pour liquid over it. Cook for at least half and hour and make that cup of tea for yourself instead. Possibly with a graham cracker to go with it…

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