Beef soup for Level 0 Kitchen Klerics

This is a follow-up to my Marrow and Fatness post from a few weeks ago. As part of my celebration of the Feast of Feasts, Pascha, during this fastless Bright Week, I made myself a batch of no effort instant soup, with a slight detour into tacos.

Last night we had tacos. I did a kind of fajita style filling using strips of fresh jalapeno peppers and seitan with cumin seeds. Liz had this in crunchy taco shells with shredded cheese, and some raw produce from my garden plot (romaine, radish and a “blushing beauty” bell pepper which is a pale green and strikes a nice balance between a true green pepper’s bitterness and a yellow peppers over-sweetness). I had also bought some grass fed, local (Step 4 on Whole Foods new meat ethics scale of 0-6) beef brisket for my own tacos. I thought it would substitute for flank steak nicely — it didn’t. I put it in a skillet with some olive oil, salt and pepper, chili del sol powder and liquid smoke and cooked it as slow as I could stand. I sliced it as thin as I could manage, across the grain. The result was still impossibly chewy. Take note, brisket makes fantastic properly slow smoked barbecue or corned beef or pastrami — but it is not flank steak. It needs to be cooked very slowly to be edible.

Thankfully I made enough of the rest to get myself filled at dinner time without the brisket, so I put the rest aside. I knew I had a slab of Step 4 bone-in shank in the fridge as well, so I had the luxury of patience with a plan (which I always find easier than patience in the abstract). Today I put that shank into my Dutch oven, covered it in water,  lidded up, and put this onto the stove to get it to a slow boil while the oven heated to 250 degrees. Once heated, I moved the whole set up into the oven for the rest of the day. I cooked this for about six hours, all told. About three hours in, I took that brisket from the night before and tossed it in as well.

When the six hours were up, all the marrow and gelatin had melted out of the bone, all the connective material had melted out of the meat as gelatin, and much of the fat had melted as well. All that was left was a bone, which will go to the dogs once it has cooled, some of the tougher bits of fat and gristle, which will also go to the dogs, and some absolutely crumblingly tender meat, which will go to me. I strained all this off, and put the deep amber broth into several glass containers to cool while I set about separating the solids and shredding the meat while it was still hot.

Yes, it took six hours to cook. But the actual amount of work I put into this was cumulatively about 15 minutes over course of an entire day. I now have 3-6 servings of beef soup, with meat, which can be augmented with vegetables, noodles, barley, rice, or eaten exactly as is — or used as a gravy or sauce base for any number of other, more decadent dishes. I could even make gravy and use the shredded beef to make meat pies.

And I made my saving throw versus wasting failures.

There is literally no seasoning, no measuring, no technique skills of any kind required here. Put one or two slabs of shank into a cold pan, cover in water, and insert into a barely above boiling temperature oven for a whole day. You can’t over cook it, you can’t over or under season it (seasoning will be done when the results are put to use, not now), the only thing that can go wrong, really, is you could spill it.

It seriously doesn’t get any easier than this. Even Step 4 beef shank is only $6/lb so it isn’t even expensive to go ethical on this one and you’re helping use up cuts that can’t be rendered to ground meat or sausage and can’t be sold as presentation cuts.

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