Beef soup always tastes better with a dash of Bovril liquid beef bouillon added. So do beef stews and beef gravies. Legend has it that Bovril was invented because Napolean III needed to feed his army during the war with Prussia. So he ordered an enormous quantity of canned beef from a Scotsman named John Johnston. Evidently, the only way to fill the order was to cook the beef down into a thick brown sticky concentrate that could be easily transported and reconstituted with hot water. It was originally known as Johnston's Fluid Beef when it was introduced in 1870.
By the 1880s, the beef-loving British had become addicted to Bovril. The liquid bouillon was ideal for making quick beef soups and stews. But it was best known as a hot nourishing meal that could be carried in a Thermos bottle. Bovril "beef tea" became a familiar part of British life during World War I. Seeking greener and more expansive pastures, Bovril relocated to Argentina and bought up cattle ranches. At the company's peak, 1.5 million head of cattle resided on ranchlands half the size of England.
In November of 2004, at the height of the mad cow scare, the Unilever Corporation, which currently owns Bovril announced a change in the formulation. Bovril went from being a beef extract to a yeast extract. In 2006, when the ban on British beef was lifted, the formula reverted to the original beef extract.
Bovril beef tea makes a lovely bedtime drink. I like mine with a dash of Tabasco. And I wouldn't think of making beef barley soup without it.
Beef Barley Soup
This soup always tastes better the second day when the barley swells up and gets soft. You can skip the roasting step if you want, but it's a great excuse to turn on the oven and heat up the kitchen on a winter morning. Besides, the caramelized flavors developed during roasting make for a darker, tastier soup.
2 pounds beef soup bones 2 onions, peeled 2 cloves garlic 2 stalks celery 1 rutabaga 2 parsnips 1 tablespoon Bovril Half cup barley
Preheat the oven to 400. Grease a roasting pan and add the beef bones. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put one whole onion and the garlic in the pan with the bones. Roast until browned, about half an hour. Chop the roasted onion and put the bones, the onion and garlic in a stock pot and cover with about 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for several hours until the meat falls off the bones. Remove the bones and meat from the pot.
Chop the other onion, the celery, the rutabaga and the parsnips into half inch dice and add them to the broth. Add bouillon cubes or Bovril to darken the stock and boost the flavor. Cook for 30 minutes adding water as needed to maintain the 6 cup level. When the meat has cooled, remove it from the bones and clean away any gristle. Chop the cleaned meat well and return it to the pot. Add the barley and cook for another 45 minutes. Serve hot.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.