Two things invariably happen in my world at this time of year, I find myself longing for toffee apples and I make my first pot of shin of beef soup. I’m a sucker for Halloween treats and soup-y comfort food.
You know the kind of soup I’m talking about, it’s so thick with barley and dried peas and lentils you could nearly eat it with a knife and fork and it makes you feel warmed and satisfied from even the smallest mug-full. It’s like a culinary hug.
Mind you, I can’t remember the last time I had a small portion of this stuff, unless you count a ladleful onto a slice of bread to make a soup sandwich. Never tried it? You’re missing out. Just make sure to butter the bread or things get messy.
I made a big pot of shin of beef soup last Saturday and barring our eldest (who is mentally allergic to all types of vegetables) everyone loves it and so it disappeared almost as soon as it went off the simmer.
Apart from that soup sandwich, I savoured a big bowl at length with yet more buttery bread and a glass of milk. I’ve even been known to eat it for breakfast. Now that the evenings are getting longer and a chill has settled in, shin of beef soup will become at least a fortnightly occurrence at home. It’s the most non-pretentious food in the world and that makes me love it all the more.
My grandmother used to say that you need a bit of bone for this soup to be truly great and so whenever possible, I always opt for shin with bone. And that’s the other great thing about shin of beef soup: Instead of scooping out the marrow and mixing it into the soup, I add a sprinkling of sea salt to the marrow and snaffle it up post haste – chef’s perk. It has the most wonderful, deep beef taste.
This version of the soup is really easy to make and it doubles up as being really tasty and really good for you. Really.
• 1 portion of shin, bone-in (this is usually about 600 or 700 grams but you could use a big kilo’s worth if you want loads of beef)
• 1 pack of mixed veg (this usually includes a carrot, half a leek, maybe some celery, some parsley etc)
• knob of butter
• 2 medium spuds
two handfuls of soup mix (barley, sp• lit peas etc – about 150g)
• 1.5 litres of beef stock
• extra water
Start by digging out your big pot and put on a medium to high heat.
Add the knob of butter to the pot and when it foams add the shin. Don’t let the pan get too hot or the butter will burn but you’ll want to fry it for about a minute on either side, just to give it a smidgen of colour.
Then add the veg (which you have cunningly chopped) alongside the stock, the two spuds and the soup mix. Leave the spuds whole. These will disintegrate over the cook time. Give it a stir, bring to the boil and skim off any froth which appears on top.
That done, lower the temperature so that it’s on the merest simmer and then walk away. You don’t have to look at the soup again for at least an hour. After that, you have to stir every ten minutes or so, in case the barley sticks.
After an hour and a half, it’ll be done.
Remove the meat and let it cool slightly and then, if they haven’t broken up already, mash the spuds against the side of the pot with a fork.
This will thicken the soup and give it a great broth-y consistency. If it’s really, really, thick you can thin it slightly with some extra water from the kettle.
Using two forks, pull the meat apart and shred and then return all of this to the soup, excepting the marrow of course.
And that’s pretty much it. All you have to do now is taste for and adjust the seasoning and you’re home on a boat.
Serve up with some buttery bread and that glass of milk I mentioned.
And trust me on the marrow.
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