A once tired and dreary hotel staple becomes a rich and luscious beef stew with some quality ingredients and a little skilled treatment.
Allegedly a favorite of the British monarchy, this traditional soup of the 19th and early 20th century was ubiquitous in hotel dining rooms and reputedly a regular on the menu at Windsor Castle. It thus became abused and neglected, its reputation and popularity suffering as a vehicle for repurposing leftovers and its name synonymous with awful food. But preparing this dish from scratch reveals a massively flavorful bowl full of tender beef in a full-bodied, gravy-like sauce.
Almost any beef or lamb cut can be used, which led to the soup’s decline as kitchens dumped leftover roasts, oxtail or less than prime meat into the forgiving braise of the pot. Hours spent on a low simmer will reduce the beef to spoon-tender chunks that fall apart effortlessly. Some recipes call for puréeing the beef as well into a thick, uniform broth but the texture of liquid meat does not appeal to many.
Carrots or potatoes can substitute for the parsnips, and a touch of heat is added to update this otherwise heavy soup. Cream sherry is traditional for a splash of brightness and acidity but brandy or cognac can also be used. Avoid cooking sherry, and use malt vinegar instead to forgo alcohol.
This soup needs no garnishes, and is best accompanied by a light salad of greens with crunchy croutons or some toasted bread.
Brown Windsor Soup
1 lb beef chuck (stew meat)
1 yellow onion
1 clove of garlic
2 T butter
2 T flour
1 t tomato paste
4 c beef broth
2 T dry sherry
½ t thyme
¼ t cayenne
1 Brown the meat in oil over medium-high heat. Remove and set aside, reserving the rendered fat.
2 Chop the onion, parsnip, leek and garlic and add to the pot. Add the butter and sauté until soft and nicely browned, about 10 min.
3 Stir in the flour, tomato paste and spices. Gradually work in the broth, stirring to avoid lumps.
4 Remove the bay leaf and purée the broth and vegetables until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a very low simmer.
5 Add the meat and simmer, covered, for 2 hrs or until the beef is tender. Finish with the sherry, and season to taste.