08 January 2009

Turkey & barley soup

Yesterday morning at this time the temperature was about 20ºF colder than it is this morning. That was the fastest and shortest-lived cold snap on record. It's just barely below freezing right now, but it's supposed to stay that way all day. Unlike Dan in Texas, I won't have to pull the bermuda shorts out of storage before April or May.

Turkey & barley soup

I'm so glad I decided to make turkey and barley soup a couple of days ago. Eating it — slurping it — has kept us warm during our mini ice age. It was Walt who remembered that we had a package of pearl barley down in the pantry. It was one we had bought at the Paris Store in Blois (an Asian grocery) and it was imported from Thailand of all places.

And I knew we had an enormous turkey thigh in the freezer, plus a couple of blocks of chicken broth that I had put away after we poached a capon for Christmas dinner. That turkey thigh must have weighed between 2 and 3 lbs. I buy them at Intermarché when they go on sale (€2.99/kg) and put them in the freezer.

Onions, carrots, and leeks

To me, a soup like turkey & barley is all about the broth. Then it's about some turkey, onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. And barley, which has a nice nutty flavor.

When I make chicken or turkey broth, I always put 3 or 4 allspice berries, 8 or 10 black peppercorns, and 2 or 3 bay leaves in the pot. If I'm making a lot of broth, say 6 to 8 quarts, I'm liable to also throw in a whole star anise fruit and a small stick of cinnamon. You don't want spices to overpower the poultry taste, but you want their flavors in the background. Oh, and don't forget to put in an onion and a carrot or two. A dried hot red pepper is optional. Salt is required.

Dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped

That's pretty much how my capon broth (6 qts.) was flavored. To make the soup, I put the big turkey thigh in the broth in a stock pot on the stove and cooked it at a bare simmer for a couple of hours. I wanted it to give most of its flavor to the broth, so I put it into cold liquid and then slowly heated it up. When it was cooked, I left it to "marinate" in the broth overnight, in the fridge or in my case in the cold downstairs pantry, as it cooled down down.

Sauté the vegetables lightly and then put them in the soup.

The next morning heat the pot back up slightly while you chop some leek leaves, a big onion, a couple of stalks of celery, and a couple of carrots. Soak some dried boletus edulis mushrooms (porcini in Italian and American, or cèpes in French) in hot water to rehydrate them. If you don't want to chop the mushrooms into smaller pieces for the soup, just put them right in to the broth without soaking them first. If you do soak the mushrooms, add the soaking liquid to the soup broth. Chopped, fresh button mushrooms would be good too, if you have them, with no soaking required.

Pull the meat off the poached turkey thigh and shred/chop it.

When you're ready, take the warmed-up turkey thigh out of the broth and start taking the meat off the bone, shredding and chopping it. Some fat skimmed off the surface of the broth, with a little butter or oil added, is good for lightly "sweating" or cooking the diced up vegetables in a skillet.

A deboned, shredded turkey thigh

It is a good idea to cook the barley separately before adding it to the soup. Take some broth out of the stock pot, say 3 or 4 cups, and cook the barley in it in a smaller saucepan for 30 to 40 minutes. If everything is cooked just right before being added to the soup broth, you won't end up with some ingredients overcooked and others not cooked enough. Or everything overcooked, in other words.

"Pearl" barley is called that because of the whitish color of the barley kernel once the brown husk has been ground away. Pearl barley cooks a lot faster than whole barley.

Once the turkey is shredded and chopped, and when the vegetables are sufficiently cooked and the barley is tender, everything just needs to be stirred into the broth and the whole thing heated up again. By the time you serve and eat it, it will all be perfectly done.

Soup's on.

Serve the soup with — au choix — crème fraîche, butter, or tabasco sauce (especially that smokey chipotle tabasco). Whatever condiments you want. And bread of course.

Here's a similar turkey soup recipe on Elise's Simply Recipes blog. She explains how to make the stock and "sweat" the vegetables. Substitute barley for the noodles, rice, or potatoes. All the grain/starch options are good ones.


  1. Ken

    You are right - it is so good to have soups during those cold days. That's what we had in between festivities during the holidays and i wished I had one going yesterday . It averaged -8C during the day but since we had another snow storm ~ 20/25 cms, I was out three times to clear the blowing white stuff because hubby just had an ACL surgery on his knee.
    I may do a turkey soup -got some frozen legs - tonight :-) Thank you for the idea and recipe

  2. It's cold again in Alabama, so I'm planning on making some chicken soup soon. I love barley and will use some.

    How do you retrieve those allspice berries from the stock?

    I think we have Dan's weather here in Anniston. It goes from high 60s to 40s in a day's time which makes it difficult to decide what to wear.

    Thanks for the soup, I can almost taste it here.

  3. Evelyn, take the allspice berries, bay leaves, and peppercorns out of the broth with slotted spoon, or strain all the broth through a colander, before you put in the turkey and vegetables for the short final cooking. That radically changing weather is hard for me to take. It was like that in eastern N.C.

    TB, I don't envy you the snow-blowing task. I went out today to buy some groceries and I was surprised at the state of things. The road from our house to Saint-Aignan hadn't been plowed and was pretty slippery. People didn't seem to understand that they can't drive right down the middle of the road just because there is snow on the sides. And the supermarket parking lot had been left as it was, and was pretty slippery. It was hard to roll a cart from the ... what's the word ... place where they keep the carts, into the store across the rutted, icy pavement. Oh well, at least the store wasn't crowded. It's supposed to be –8Cº, cold again, in the morning.

  4. Ken, is that a special kind of barley? It looks like the size of a chick pea--or maybe I'm looking at the wrong ingredient? I think of barley as more like rice size.

    In any case, the soup looks so good. By the way, my mom always put her spices like peppercorns into something like a little wrap of cheesecloth, so their flavor would seep into the soup, but she could remove them more easily.

    Hey, you were mentioning in one of your responses to your yesterday's post, about how bad the winter was around the year of our Alma program. I remember that actual year (which would have been late '81, early '82) there were big problems with ice around the time of Christmas. It seems like Bob P. tried to fly home to Atlanta and had a terrible time with his flight leaving London, because of big ice issues. I remember it being all over the news that ice was hitting terribly in Europe. I know that back home in St. Louis, they had a horrendous snow storm where about a foot and a half fell over the period of a couple of days, and schools were closed for almost 2 weeks. It was an extremely harsh winter. But, then, so was either that next year, or the one after... we had -13 FARENHEIT on Christmas Eve, and it NEVER gets that cold in St. Louis.

    Weather! Yikes! I know you must be glad to have that huge wood pile you've worked so hard to put together!


  5. I use a large mesh tea ball infuser with a chain for dried thyme, peppercorn, bay leaves, etc. and it works fine. Don't have to strain the liquids.

  6. Cheesecloth works but I think I like CHM's method. I have one of those big mesh tea balls too and I sometimes use it to keep allspice berries, black peppercorns, bay leaves and other spices and herbs from floating freely in a broth or stew. It works really well.

  7. Judy, I guess that particular winter's weather has faded from my memory, but I do remember about Bob P.'s travel problems now that you mention his trip. I also remember that I had miserable colds and sinus infections for a good part of that winter. That's how I remember Paris winters: wet feet, a wet head, cold gray weather, and frequent head colds.

  8. You've inspired Simon :-) He's making turkey'n'barley soup for dinner. Barley is one of his favourite things.

    Wheat as an alternative to barley seems to be quite traditional in the Touraine, and I have some local recipes that I must try, including a dessert.

    Judy – barley swells and spreads a lot, and goes sort of gelatinous and spongey.

  9. Hi Susan,

    One fairly local product we love is wheat berries — Ebly is the brand name. They cook up in a short time and they swell and change texture with long cooking the way barley does.

    Judy, we just assume that the Thai barley we bought is really pearl barley. We read that raw barley (with husks intact) takes many hours of soaking and cooking before it is edible. Pearl barley cooks up in about 45 minutes, which is how long we cooked the Thai barley we bought at the Asian grocery in Blois. I forgot to look when I went to Intermarché yesterday to see whether or not they stock pearl barley on their shelves.


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