- Beef that doesn't look pretty is better for soup. White streaks of fat through it are a plus for flavor in this kind of a dish. The white stuff is sometimes called marbling. Helpfully, it's also cheaper.
- The onions and mushrooms will develop more flavor if you begin by cooking them slowly, over not-high heat, in fat, for a while. It's called "sweating" them. You don't want them to get brown the way you do when you saute things. You want the onions to turn sort of translucent, and you want the mushrooms do get softer. For sweating, it's okay for the pan to be crowded.
- The barley wants to drink up all the broth--which sort of results in not-soup. You fight that off by cooking the barley in one pot and the beef, mushrooms, onions, and broth in another, and only combining as much as you want to eat a few minutes before you eat it.
- Barley comes in kinds: some cook in 20 minutes and some in 90, and I haven't figured out which is which. My best advice is buy a package that has directions, and obey. Next best, if you're buying from a bulk bin, is to start checking after 20 minutes and keep checking until it's soft and tastes like it should.
- Store-bought beef stock usually doesn't have much beef flavor, because it's a lot of work to do right. Vegetable stock or chicken stock are better. Use one of those.
You need a medium sized boiling pan for the barley.
You also need something you can use to brown things in fat and something that can hold several quarts of soup. Option 1: a dutch oven does both. Option 2: a frying pan for the browning and a soup pot for the quarts. Your choice.
Ingredients For Four Servings
1/4 cup barley
4 tablespoons butter (one half-stick) (or you could use olive oil)
1 small yellow onion
1/2 lb. button mushrooms (or you can include other kinds, including some dried ones that your mom might make you take, but still mostly button)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock--or you can replace a bit of that with red wine.1/2 lb. boneless beef, looking for something that's cheap and marbled.
Start the barley cooking according to the recipe on the package.
Peel the onion and cut it into little pieces.
Pull the stems off the mushrooms. Cut the smallest stems in half, and the bigger ones to about same size. Cut the smallest caps in quarters, and the bigger ones, again, to about the same size.
In a skillet or dutch oven, melt half of the butter over low heat. Not all of the butter, half of it. Throw in the onion and mushrooms, and stir about once a minute. You can work on the beef at the same time.
Cut the beef into bite-sized chunks, or maybe a little smaller.
When the onions look sort of glassy and the mushrooms are all softer and a bit darker, take them all out, putting them on a plate or in a bowl
Melt the second half of the butter in the same pan, but raise the heat to medium or a little higher. Add the beef making sure there's a little space between the pieces. You do want the beef to brown, and get bits of that nice dark brown that looks like it'll taste wonderful. So, after two full minutes, turn over one piece to look at. If it doesn't have dark brown bits, wait a bit longer, and try again. Then turn all the bits to another side, give them two minutes, and then stir to some other side. This can't be precise because, ya know, they aren't all the same size. So what you want is for nothing to be red any more, and some sides of most pieces to be that pretty dark brown.
Remove the meat to the plate or bowl with the onions and mushrooms.
Add about half a cup of water to the pan and let it fizz up to a boil. As that happens, gently scrape the brown stuff stuck to the bottom loose.
If using a dutch oven: add all the broth, and then add all the beef, mushrooms and onions. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer (just barely boiling, but boiling), cook for ten minutes, and try chewing one piece of beef. If it's lovely soft, it's done. If not, repeat at five minute intervals.
If using a frying pan and soup pot: Pour the liquid from the frying pan into the pot, and then add all the beef, mushrooms and onions. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer (just barely boiling, but boiling), cook for ten minutes, and try chewing one piece of beef. If it's lovely soft, it's done. If not, repeat at five minute intervals.
If you're not ready to serve it: Store the barley in one container and everything else in another.
When you're ready to serve it: Combine the right amount of soup and barley in a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for three minutes before eating. (Or, of course, microwave them together. Microwave is better for one serving, stove top for four.)