Beef consommé (Marhahúsleves)

Húsleves is a signature of Sunday family meals across Hungary, usually served from a large soup tureen for the whole table, similar to a pot-au-feu. The steaming, fragrant broth packs bits of tender beef, root vegetables, and noodles. It's often paired with bone marrow and toast on the side.

Ingredients

Yield: 6-8 servings; Total time: 4 hours

  • 1 kilo (2 ¼ pounds) unsliced beef shank or top, eye or bottom round

  • 500 grams (1 pound) beef bones, washed

  • Optional: 6 pieces of 5 cm (2 inches) thick beef marrow bones, both ends nicely showing the marrow

  • 2 teaspoons salt (more to taste)

  • 10 black peppercorns

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 large parsnips, peeled and quartered

  • Wedge or a few outer leaves of savoy cabbage

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, tied together

  • 1 onion, cut in half (don’t peel)

  • 1 kohlrabi, peeled and quartered

  • 1 small celery root, peeled and quartered

  • 1 medium potato, peeled

  • 1 tomato

  • 1 Hungarian wax pepper or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded

  • 2 large carrots, julienned

  • 100 grams (¼ pounds) noodles, ideally snail-shaped (csigatészta) or angel-hair pasta

  • 4 liters (4.2 quarts) cold water

  • Slices of toasted bread

Directions

  • Step 1: Place the cleaned meat and bones in a large stockpot filled with 4 liters (4.2 quarts) cold water. Bring water to a boil while using a ladle to remove impurities that gather on the surface. Then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and occasionally skim off any scum that still appears on top. Cook for 1 hour.

  • Step 2: Add bone marrows, kohlrabi, 1 parsnip, celery root, savoy cabbage, tomato, pepper, potato, parsley, garlic cloves, bay leaf, peppercorns, and season with salt. Cook uncovered until meat is very tender, about 2 ½ hours (so beef and bones should cook for a total of about 3 ½ hours). 

  • Step 3: Using a slotted spoon, remove from the liquid all vegetables and the bones and discard (they’ve released their flavor). Remove the meat and bone marrows and put aside. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a pot. 

  • Step 4: Add raw carrots, parsnip, and the noodles into the strained liquid. Bring it to a boil and cook until carrots are fork-tender, about 12 minutes. In the meantime, cut the beef into 2 ½ cm (1-inch) cubes.

  • Step 5: Taste soup and add more salt if needed. Serve in soup bowls while still hot, with each plate containing a combination of beef, carrots, parsnips, and noodles. Drizzle the top with parsley. Serve the bone marrows on the side with toasted bread (people can spread the marrows on the toast for themselves).

Words of advice

To achieve an impressively dark-hued soup, some people add a bit of soy sauce to it. This is by no means a traditional approach, but the soy sauce also adds a nice flavor boost.

I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day.