Monday, March 26, 2012

Beef and Vegetable Soup (AKA The Anticlimactic Return)

I always think it's a good idea to take a picture of food
when it's still steaming, but it always just ends up looking
blurry and kind of wistful.
So, it's been a while. I know, and I don't really have a good excuse. One might think that after such a long hiatus, I'd want to come back with a bang. Instead, I'm coming back with a soup.

Paleo soups aren't that complicated, really. Take some meat, vegetables, and stock, throw them in a pot, heat them up, and you're golden. The only pitfall is that store-bought stocks often have weird ingredients in them. Sometimes they've been thickened with corn starch or some other grain-based starch. For some reason, a lot of manufacturers also seem to believe that every good stock needs a spoonful of sugar (or, more likely, a spoonful of high fructose corn syrup). Even if you find a good one, there's a strong chance that it has way more salt than you really need.

So, I'm going to show you how to make a stock from scratch that's completely, 100% paleo, and then I'm going to use it to make a beef and vegetable soup that has nothing but delicious paleo goodness in the ingredients list.

Those are beef shanks.
They're going to be this year's new fashionable ingredient, because they're awesome.


4 beef shanks
6 cups of water
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste


Pressure Cooker (Required, unless you plan to simmer the stock for about 8 hours)
Mesh Strainer
Large Container (to strain the stock into)
Gravy Separator

The first step in making the soup is making the stock. If you use a pressure cooker, this will take about an hour from start to finish, so plan ahead.

Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to both sides of the beef shanks. How much you use is a matter of taste, but don't go too heavy with it at this stage. you can always add more to the stock later. Place the pressure cooker over high heat, and add a single beef shank to it. Brown the beef shank on one side for about 2 minutes, flip the shank, and brown the other side for about 2 minutes.

Browning the meat makes the stock taste more like steak and less like boiled carcass.

Brown the rest of the shanks, one at a time, in the same way.

This is what I mean by browning.
The shank isn't even close to cooked, but the outside is seared.
The shank gets fully cooked later by the hot water

Once all of the shanks are browned, add them back to the pressure cooker and pour in the water. I have kind of an average size pressure cooker, so this recipe was mad for its capacity. If you've got a huge one, it's not a problem, but if you've got a really small one, you may have to adjust the quantity. The important thing is to never fill the pressure cooker above its maximum fill line.

This is about the maximum fill on my pressure cooker.
Putting in more than this might make things get explodey

Following the instructions for your particular pressure cooker, clamp on the lid, and put the cooker over high heat. Wait until the pressure cooker begins hissing (or jiggling, or whatever indicates that your particular pressure cooker is at full pressure), and turn the heat down to medium-low. You need to adjust the heat so that just a trickle of steam is escaping. Once you've got it adjusted, cook the stock in the pressure cooker for 45 minutes.

When time is up, remove as much of the meat (and the bones) from the stock as you can and set it aside.

The meat will be used in the soup, but the bones are so depleted
that I don't even think they're safe for the dog to chew on. They get tossed in the trash.

Carefully pour the stock through a mesh strainer into a large container (I just used a large bowl). Any meat that is caught by the strainer should be put with the rest of the meat, to be used in the soup.

Sometimes meat gets described as being so tender it "falls off the bone."
That's literally what happened to the meat in the strainer.

Add the carrots, celery, and onion to the pressure cooker and place it back over medium heat, without its lid.

One of the nice things about this recipe is that it only uses one pot.

Cook the vegetables over medium heat until they've softened and the onions are beginning to become translucent. You should stir them often during this process.

Begin adding the stock to the pot with the vegetables. I recommend using a gravy separator to remove most of the fat from the stock. To do this, just fill the gravy separator with some of the stock, wait about 20 seconds for the fat to separate and float to the top, then pour the liquid into the pot. Repeat until all of the stock is added.

The liquid will drain from the bottom because of the cool spout.
Just stop pouring when the only thing left in the separator is the fat on top.

Shred the beef from the shanks and add it to the pot with the vegetables and stock.

You can either shred the beef with a pair of forks, or you can chop it up with a knife.

Stir the soup to evenly distribute the beef and allow it to simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. Before serving, taste the soup and decide if it needs more seasoning. It is likely to need at least an additional pinch of salt.

  • This is a very basic soup that's a great start for making additions or substitutions. I've added shredded cabbage to this recipe and really enjoyed it. If you have a favorite vegetable, herb, or spice, give it a try.
  • If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can still do this soup, but it will take a lot longer. You'll need to simmer the stock over low heat for several hours (probably about six), and you may need to add a little extra water to account for what will boil away during that time.
  • You might want to measure your pressure cooker's capacity before diving into this recipe. If it isn't going to hold six cups of liquid and four beef shanks, you'll need to adjust the quantities.
  • Be careful with pressure cookers and follow the directions for yours. Although they're normally very safe these days, it is possible to make one explode all over your kitchen (and potentially yourself) if you do something ridiculous with it.
  • If you refrigerate this soup for later, it will set up solid. That's because this stock has way more gelatin in it than the average store-bought stock. Heating the soup up will make it go back to a liquid.