Monday 28 March 2011

Brown Windsor soup - A revival

I’ve always been slightly intrigued by Brown Windsor Soup. I’ve read mention of it countless times, generally in the context of Victorian or Edwardian dining, or perhaps later being associated with drab wartime austerity. It seems to come up again and again, but I’ve never tried it. I’ve never seen it on a menu and I barely know anyone who’s ever eaten it, apart from my Mother – once, in the 1960’s in London, who remembered it as being “Nice and rich”.

It used to be a restaurant staple, an absolute British classic, but the ravages of wartime economy meant that although it remained very much on the menu, the only defining characteristic it shared with it’s pre-war version was it’s brownness. ‘E’s grandfather apparently ate it whilst serving in the RAF, and remembers it being made from Bovril.
Abominations such as this are what helped to consign it not only to the dustbin of culinary history, but literally had it being held up as an example of the sheer awfulness of British cooking.

Recently I came across an Alastair Little recipe for Brown Windsor, and browsing the list of ingredients it was hard to see anything to dislike, in fact; it sounded absolutely delicious. Shin of beef, Lamb fillet, Marrow Bone, Cayenne and Sherry. Meat and booze! Does it get any better?
How could we, as a nation, have fallen out of love with something seemingly so right?

There was it seemed, only one-way to find out.

The soup’s very Britishness seemed to fit in nicely with what we try and do at our Bristol based ‘Montpelier Basement’ supper club, where the recurring theme is British, seasonal and local. When we announced it was on the menu, there was a fair bit of interest in the dish, it seemed I wasn’t the only one who had heard of it and was intrigued.

The night before the supper, we worked our way through the recipe ending up with a cauldron of murky, brackish swamp like liquid. Removing the bones, and scraping the jellified marrow out into the soup elicited something of an appalled and disgusted commentary from pescetarian ‘E’, for who the sheer meatiness was just a step too far. But the prodigious use of a stick blender and then forcing the resulting mixture through a Mouli saw something of a transformation…the soup slowly became a rather drab, but not entirely unexpected, uniform brown. The final additional flourish of some sherry and cayenne did nothing to improve the dull earthen sheen.

But what did it taste like?

Belying its slightly depressing, functional look, it tasted absolutely belting. Subtle at first, meaty. But then turning spicy and tinged with the sherry flavour. Bloody gorgeous.

We decided to liven things up slightly by adding a dollop of horseradish and chive crème fraiche to each bowl, which also helped to break up the appalling brownness.

The verdict of our diners at ‘The Basement’? The general consensus seemed to be that they absolutely loved it. In fact, I don’t think anyone we asked disliked it.

So, time for Brown Windsor Soup to emerge from it’s period in culinary limbo and once again take it’s place on menus across the nation, if only that a whole new generation can get to sample an absolute British classic? I think so.

Here’s the recipe.

Brown Windsor Soup
Serves 8

You’ll Need: -

225g Shin of Beef, cut into 2.5cm cubes
225g Lamb Fillet, cut into 2.5cm cubes
60g Dripping or Butter
1 Large Onion, thinly sliced
2 Carrots cut into small dice
60g Flour
1 Marrow Bone, sawn into 5cm pieces
2.25 Litres Beef or Chicken Stock
Bouquet Garni of Celery, Bay and Thyme
Salt and Pepper
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Sherry glass of Sweet Sherry or Madeira
Chopped Chives, Crème Fraiche, Horseradish to garnish (optional).

In a heavy casserole, brown the meat in the dripping or butter. Add the sliced onion and carrots, lower the heat and fry gently until they wilt. Sprinkle over the flour; turn up the heat and brown, stirring.

Add the marrow bone, pour over the stock and bring to the boil. Skim, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Add the bouquet garni and season. Simmer for 2 hours, topping up with water if needed.

Remove the bones and the bouquet garni (Making sure to scrape the marrow out into the soup). Blitz with a stick blender, then use a Mouli or push through a sieve using a wooden spoon into a clean pan. Adjust the seasoning and add the cayenne pepper and sweet sherry or Madeira.

Heat through gently before serving.
If you fancy pepping it up a bit, as we did, add some crème fraiche mixed with horseradish and finely chopped chives.


Jenny Eatwell said...

I'm all for reviving the best of these lost recipes, so will keep this one tucked behind my ear for the right moment! It sounds terrific.

E said...


Dan said...

Jenny - Excellent. Thanks. I love a 'lost recipe'. I have my eye on another classic, although this one is medieval although I think Heston Blumethal may have stole my thunder by featuring it on the menu at Dinner.

'E' - indeed - ALL THE MEATS! HOORAH!

josordoni said...

fabulous! next time, (and to give E a break..) try finding out about the White Soup mentioned in Jane Austen.. as far as I can work out, it is chicken and almonds, but I've not found a recipe yet.

And which AL book did you find the Brown Windsor recipe in please? I LOVE AL's recipes :)

Dan said...

Josordoni - White Soup, I've just seen the recipe on Twitter (prompted by your comment here), and it looks extremely interesting. Almonds seem to feature heavily in old recipes. As for Alastair Little - the recipe is in his 'Modern British Cookbook'. I can barely bring myself to say what bloody awful newspaper it's connected to (Daily Mail). Just have to disregard that, it's a cracking book.

The Viking said...

Phwoar, that looks absolutely delicious. I have to say that soup is something that terrifies me. Not as in I'm scared of soup, I'm scared of making it. But this looks like I could do it. And so I am going to - great recipe!

PDH said...

This sounds just perfect... Beef shin, oh god yes with Lamb fillet and MARROW BONES as well! I do hope you scraped the meaty mash from the mouli onto some toast as well though :D

Graphic Foodie said...

Lovely! Been doing a lot of research into old recipes for a piece. So many I want to try but kicked off with Sussex Pond Pudding:

Think there's one for sherbet but involves milking a cow straight into the bowl you need to use - hmmmm.

Dan said...

The Viking - Probably not the simplest soup recipe if you're scared of making it - but it is cracking. Let me know how you get on.

Pavel - There was hardly any meaty mash to scrape through, it all cooked down and got worked through the mouli into the soup. But, I made sure to eat loads to compensate.

Graphic Foodie - I was just catching up on my blog reading today, and came across your Sussex Pond Pudding Recipe. Looks awesome. Milking a cow to make sherbet, think I'll pass. I've got a recipe book that gives times for poaching everything from Heron to Swan eggs (13 mins). Also hmmmm

Nick Baines said...

Fantastic! I'll have a dabble with this shortly. Well done that man.

Dan said...

Nick Baines - Thanks very much mate. Be interested to hear how you get on if you try it.

Fiona Beckett said...

It was awesome. What else can I say? So glad you posted the recipe

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, completely brilliant.

Dan said...

Fiona - Thanks very much, so glad you enjoyed it x

Ginandcrumpets - Hey thanks :)

Unknown said...

Lovely recipe! Yes, I remember eating Brown Windsor regularly, but not where, or when. Possibly staff canteen 1970 (ish), but more likely school in Harlow from 1963. Just one point. My Grandmother, who I don't remember actually making Brown Windsor, insisted on mutton, not lamb. These day, I suppose lamb would be easier to find.

Regards, Graeme