Monday, February 25, 2013

Beef and Barley Soup

   Beef & Barley. It is the king of soups. Honestly, I couldn't think of a more tasty, delicious, satisfying soup.   Slowly braised melting beef and hearty toasted barley are just made to go together. The barley soaks up the fat & juices of the beef, and all the other ingredients are just there to let the beef & barley shine. 

    Usually, I like to "update" the classics by adding some sort of unexpected twist. You could easily do that to this recipe by adding some cayenne pepper for punch, or some sort of Asian twist like oyster sauce. Somehow, with this soup it just didn't feel right. Not because I'm some sort of Beef & Barley purist, but because with this soup you really just want to let those two ingredients shine. 

    There is room here for a few extra flourishes. You could add some herbs to the broth such as fresh thyme or bay leaves. The only "herb" I add here is some young celery leaves from the center of the stalk. They add some welcome freshness to the soup and their flavour compliments the soup without adding any distraction.

      For the broth I use a healthy amount of cheap red wine and a really good brown stock made from deer & boar. The brown stock is made by La Maison Gibier, here in Quebec. It's kinda hard to find, but hopefully your local supermarket has something similar. Avoid big brand beef stock, because the commercial varieties tend to be overloaded with salt and/or MSG. You're honestly better off using water. Commercial vegetable stock tends to be a lot more natural tasting the beef varieties, but if you can't find one that you think is worthy of this soup, don't be afraid to use just plain water. The beef alone (with the help of the wine and vegetables) should be enough to give you a flavorful broth.

            This soup needs a long time on the stove for the beef to become tender and to allow the broth to develop a deep, rich flavour. You should let it simmer for at least 2 hours, but if you have the time, you can let it go all day long. Just make sure that it stays at a nice gentle simmer, around 60C (140F.) The longer the soup simmers, the more the beef will soften. I love it when the beef if so tender that the cubes break apart and melt away into the thick broth. If too much broth evaporates during cooking, just add a little water. Add the toasted barley 30 minutes before you take the soup off the heat so that they don't get too soft.

Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time 2h 30 min.   Serves 6.


454g (1lbs) cubed stewing beef (short rib or shoulder)
1 cup barley
2 cups red wine
1 cup carrots, peeled & chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 cups brown stock
2 cups water
1 tbs tomato paste
3 tbs vegetable oil

young celery leaves from the center of the stalk for garnish

1. Heat 2 tbs oil in a large pot. Add the onions and saute until they just start to brown. Add the beef and saute until well browned. Make sure the beef is well spaced so that it sears rather than steams. If you need more space, use an extra frying pan for beef that wont fit comfortably in the pot.

2. Once the beef is well browned, deglaze with 2 tbs red wine. Add the remaining vegetables, along with 1 tbs vegetable oil and saute for 2 more minutes. Add the rest of the red wine and let simmer. Let the wine reduce to the point that it coats the meat & vegetables.    

3. Add 4 cups brown stock and enough water to make sure everything is well covered - about 2 cups. Stir in 1 tbs tomato paste. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat down to a very gently simmer. Let simmer for at least 2 hours. Feel free to let it go for up to 6 hours, as it will only get better and better the longer it goes. Keep adding water occasionally, a half cup at a time, to keep the broth from drying out  

4. While the soup is simmering, toast the barley. Place the barley in a large skillet in one even layer then place in a oven pre-heated to 350F. Toast the barley until it is nice and brown - about 7 minutes. Give the pan a shake a couple of times to make sure the barley toasts evenly.  

5. Once the soup has simmered to the point that the beef is nice and tender, add the toasted barley. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the barley is plump & soft, but still just a little al-dente. 

6. Garnish each serving of soup with a few young celery from the center of the stock. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Crispy Pork Belly

         Pork belly. It is simply one of the tastiest cuts of meat you will get from any beast. It is of course the source of the almighty bacon, but if that's the only way you ever eat it, you are missing out. A nice big piece of pork belly, slow cooked, is a little melting piece of heaven. Leave the skin on and cook it right, and it will be a crispy, crunchy, soft-in-the-middle revelation. 
        If you've ever had pork rinds or chicharones, then you know how good crispy pork skin can be. When done right, it has a satisfying crunch, and then  melts away, leaving only a hint of delicious fatty goodness. A nice layer of perfectly crisped skin on top of a soft piece of slow-cooked pork belly creates a perfect contrast of textures. 

          To make this recipe I use raw, cured pork belly. The pork belly that I found at my local grocery store was already cured, but if what you find hasn't been already it's very easy to cure yourself. I've included a recipe for a simply brine at the bottom of this post. Just submerge the pork belly in the brine and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Whether you brine it yourself or your buy pork that has already been cured, you will have to rinse it thoroughly before cooking to make sure that it is not too salty. 

         The red wine braised cabbage from my last post is an ideal accompaniment to the crispy pork belly. The sweet & sour flavour of the cabbage goes really well with the rich meat. It's reminiscent of sauerkraut, or even Korean kimchee, which is maybe why I decided to throw a couple of Asian flavours in my glaze for the pork. Honey garlic glaze is always good with pork - the addition of ginger and sesame oil just takes it to the next level.   

Prep time: 15 minute + 3 hour rest. Cook time: 30 minutes. Make 4 appetizers

4 3.5 oz (100g) pieces skin-on, cured pork belly 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 

3/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, chopped  
2 tablespoons water
Pre-heat the oven to 280F

1. Thoroughly rinse the pork belly in cold water and then pat dry with paper towels.  Score the skin of the belly down to the fat using the sharpest knife you own. An inexpensive box-cutter razor works great for jobs like this. Allow the skin to dry in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 3 hours or overnight.

2. Heat 2 tbs of vegetable oil in a cast iron pan and place the pieces of pork belly in the pan skin side down. Adjust the heat until the skin is frying with a slow steady sizzle. Allow the skin to fry until it is golden and crispy. This will take about  8 to 12 minutes. Keep a close eye on the pan as it cooks, adjusting the temperature of the pan as you go. You want the pan hot enough that you can hear the skin sizzling, but not so hot that it will burn. 

3. When the skin has crisped, flip the belly over and finish it in the oven at 280F for 15 minutes. 

4. While the pork cooks in the oven, make the honey glaze. Combine the honey, mustard, soy sauce, ginger & galic in a small sauce pot. Add a couple tablespoons water and bring to a simmer. Let simmer until the water has boiled off, about 5 minutes, then strain.  

5. Remove the pork belly from the oven and then use a pastry brush to apply the honey glaze. Return the pork to the oven for 2 minute and then take it back out and glaze it one more time.

6. Heat the red wine braised cabbage and then divide it among 4 plates. Place one piece of pork belly on each plate and drizzle with extra braising juice from the cabbage and honey ginger glaze.

*to cure the pork

Simple Brine:
1/2 gallon (2L) water
1/2 cup (135g) salt

Bring the brine to a boil then cool it down in the fridge. You can add any aromatics you like, such as garlic, thyme or bay leaves. Submerge pork in brine and let sit in the fridge overnight.