Beethoven – Rice soup

Beethoven - Rice soup

One unlucky day in the summer of 1823, Beethoven had to do without his beloved veal in his starter, a rice soup. Not that the rest of the meal progressed along vegetarian lines: the menu continued with green peas with ham and a leg of an unidentified animal. And the rice soup itself was -even with the veal missing- anything but vegetarian. Except on fasting days, soup in Beethoven’s time usually had a strong beef broth as basis, of which in a solid kitchen, as we read in Anna Hofbauer’s “Wiener Kochbuch” (Viennese cookbook), always had to be a big pot at hand. This broth was made of beef with vegetables like parsley root, carrots, turnips and celeriac. A piece of ginger was added in the winter, and, to make the broth extra tasty and powerful, an old chicken, a chunk of liver and some veal or sheep’s bones were added. The beef should be lean, for not only Beethoven was no fan of overly greasy things; cooking guru Anna also exhorted her readers that fat contributes nothing to the quality of a good broth.

The rice the Viennese used at the time usually came from Italy, where rice has been cultivated since the Middle Ages on the swampy, hot plain of the Po river. The most widely grown variety was -and is- arborio rice, named after the Piedmontese town of Arborio. When cooked, it has a creamy texture around a chewy center.

If we want to make Beethoven’s rice soup in accordance with the then applicable rules of cooking, we have some work to do. First, we have to make a simple clear beef broth. With that broth we make a powerful brown beef soup. In that soup we serve the rice, which is cooked separately in the simple broth.

1. For an ordinary beef broth we take 1½ l. of water for every pound of lean beef. Put it in a big pot together with some salt, a few veals bones and a piece of liver. An old soup chicken is welcome to join in. Put it on the stove and let it cook very, very gently, while carefully skimming of the foam. When the broth remains clear you can add the vegetables: a carrot, a parsnip, a piece of knob celery and a leak. As condiment you can use a few cloves, a piece of ginger, mace and some black peppercorns. Leave it on the stove for a few hours. Add some water if too much evaporates. When you decide that it is done you pour it through a fine sieve.

2. With the resulting clear broth, we make a strong, brown beef soup. For that we need:

100 gr. (3½ oz.) smoked bacon, thinly sliced
2 onions
100 gr. (3½ oz.) beef
1 carrot
1 parsnip
1 root parsley
¼ knob celery
2 l. (4 pt.) beef broth

Grease the bottom of a large, heavy pot with butter or lard and cover it with thin slices of bacon. Cut the onions in ringlets and place them on the bacon. On this you put 100 gr. of lean beef, cut in dices, and then the chopped carrot, parsnip, parsley and celery. Let it cook without a lid on a medium heat until the onions become translucent and start getting brown. Now pour the (hot) beef broth over it, cover the pot and let it gently simmer for a few hours. Sieve the soup.

3. With this brown beef soup we are going to make the rice soup. We need:

125 gr. (4½ oz.) arborio rice
½ l. (1 pt.) clear broth
1½ l. (3 pt.) strong beef soup

In Beethoven’s days the rice had to be washed until the water was clear, without any whiteness. That was necessary to get rid of the smells the rice would have contracted during storing. We don’t have to do that any more: rinsing it just once is quite enough. De rice is cooked in the light broth, which will be entirely absorbed by the rice. The rice is added to 1½ l. of hot, strong beef broth and is served immediately.


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