Use the Pressure Cooker for Beef Barley Soup in Half the Time

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

If there's one thing I love in the middle of winter, it's a hearty, warming soup like beef barley. If there's one thing I love even more, it's a hearty, warming bowl of beef barley soup that takes less than an hour from start to finish and tastes just as good as a long-cooked version, if not better. With a pressure cooker, such miracles are possible.

Adapting my original beef barley soup recipe for the pressure cooker was incredibly easy. Almost everything stays the same, except for a little streamlining here and there and some small but important adjustments to the quantity of liquid used.

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Here's what remains unchanged:

  • I start with an appropriate cut of beef. That means a tough, collagen-rich cut that, with time and heat (and, in the case of a pressure cooker, higher heat thanks to higher pressure), transforms into meltingly soft gelatin. My preference here is for bone-in short ribs, since the bones add so much excellent flavor to the broth, but you could choose a cheaper cut like the chuck, or a more labor-intensive but even more flavorful cut, like oxtail. Consult our guide to long-cooking beef cuts for more information.
  • Next, I brown the beef in large pieces before cutting those pieces into smaller ones. This helps develop a deep, roasted flavor (thanks, Maillard reaction!), while minimizing the tough, dry texture that deep browning also delivers.
  • Last, a splash of fish sauce at the end adds even more savory depth, without making the soup taste fishy at all.

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To make this work in a pressure cooker, we just have to make a few adjustments.

First, Use Less Stock

A pressure cooker works by sealing the cooking vessel and trapping steam. This builds pressure inside the cooker, which allows the boiling point to surpass the typical 212°F (100°C) you get at sea level, drastically speeding up the cooking process. That trapped steam, though, means there's no significant evaporation and reduction: Whatever liquid we start with, including all the water contained in the meat and vegetables, is going to end up in the final soup. In my original recipe, I call for three quarts of stock, but in the pressure cooker version, I cut this amount by one-third, to two quarts, and I end up with an equally brothy soup when it's all finished.

Next, If Using Bone-In Beef, Cook It Whole

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For my original recipe, in an admittedly neurotic move, I suggested deboning cuts like short ribs before cooking them. This makes it easier to cut the meat into more perfect cubes after browning it, even though both the bones and the meat are going to end up in the pot.

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For my pressure cooker version, I've ditched that step, since the time savings is a big feature of the recipe. Instead, bone-in cuts can go straight into the pot whole. Once they're done, you can just fish them out, slide out the bones (they'll fall right out after a spin in the pressure cooker), and cut up the fully cooked meat before returning it to the pot.

Use Two Sets of Vegetables

In my original recipe, I call for only diced vegetables, like carrot, onion, and celery, browning them early on, setting them aside, then adding them back to the soup toward the end. By keeping them out of the soup through much of its cooking time, I prevent them from turning to flavorless mush, but still give them enough time to flavor the broth near the end.

In the pressure cooker version, I use two sets of vegetables instead. First, I brown the diced carrots, celery, and onion, making sure to not just brown them but to let them approach tenderness. I then reserve them for later, just like in my original recipe. After that, I cook the soup and meat in the pressure cooker with some larger pieces of those same vegetables; given the shorter cooking time, this ensures that I infuse the broth fully with their flavor. When the soup is done, I fish out the large vegetable pieces, which will have become flavorless mush by this point, and add the browned, diced ones back in. By doing this, you get lots of vegetable flavor into the broth, yet still end up with flavorful pieces that have retained a good texture.

Hit It With Some Wine

On top of the stock, I hit this version with a splash of dry white wine. It adds a subtle tartness that balances out the beefy and earthy richness of the soup and builds a more complex flavor profile. Since the soup has less time to cook in the pressure cooker, that extra depth of flavor is a welcome addition.

Finally, Add Peas

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Here's a little secret: I meant to add peas to my original recipe, but forgot at the last minute. They didn't make it into the photos, so they didn't make it into the recipe. I'm rectifying that this time around by stirring frozen peas in right before serving, just long enough to warm them through. This change has nothing to do with the pressure cooker, so you should feel free to add peas to the other version right at the end as well, if you so desire.

Peas or no, one thing is certain: Once you switch to this pressure cooker recipe, you'll never look back.