Scotch Broth

Classic winter warmer, infinitely variable but always warming the body, and comforting the soul.

Serve with a sprinkling of curly parsley. Aye, and a hunk of bread; “doorsteps” only please. Slices at least an inch thick. Butter them if you wish.

But …

  • no new-fangled fripperies like croutons here.  If you’re tempted, by all means make some, but consign them to the cat’s litter tray.
  • and no garlic. I love the stuff – but there are limits. I don’t care what it might add to the complex meld of flavours. Just not here, not ever.

Not so much a recipe,  as an opinionated traipse through possibilities, from the most economic and basic (diced carrot and swede, pearl barley and dried peas, with the leftovers of a roast, in a stock), to the thick and gloriously special (with the luxury of a boiled joint to follow).


  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced (¼ inch cubes) – about 8 ounces/250g
  • An equal quantity of swede, similarly diced – about 8 ounces/250g
  • 2 onions, peeled and diced
    • optional additions – 2-3 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced; a couple of potatoes washed and diced; a couple of sticks of celery, chopped; half a small cabbage, finely sliced
  • 3-4 ounces/75-125g pearl barley
  • and an equal quantity of dried peas – a mixture of yellow split peas and dried green peas (soaked and drained)
    • option – use the equivalent of bought dried broth mix
  • A couple of litres of stock – best of all, a good home-made meat stock
    • or whatever stock you have available; if the cupboard is bare apart from a couple of vegetarian stock cubes, they’ll do!
  • Bay leaf and herbs
    • optional additions – anything from 2 tsp mixed dried herbs to a bunch of fresh thyme
  • Meat options – any one of the following
    • A shoulder of lamb/mutton
    • 1-2lbs (½-1 kg) neck of lamb
    • 1-2lbs (½-1 kg) of mutton or stewing steak in one piece or cut into 1 inch cubes
    • a piece of rolled brisket, 1-2lbs/½-1kg
    • the remains of a cold roast, added later
    • or it’s near the end of the month, so forget meat entirely. Rely on stock cubes. What’s not to enjoy about the silkiness of barley, with the colour, flavours, and sweetness of root vegetables?
  • Curly parsley
  • Salt and Pepper (fresh ground black, by preference)


  • Either
    • put the meat in water, bring to the boil, skim any froth, and reduce to a simmer for a good couple of hours, with the onions, bay leaf and dried herbs (if using).  Add barley and dried peas (or dried broth mix) for the second hour;
    • OR bring a pot of stock to the boil, with the onions, bay leaf and dried herbs (if using), barley and dried peas (or dried broth mix), and simmer until nearly soft and ready; this will probably take an hour.
  • Add the fresh diced vegetables (the essentials, plus any of the options you have to hand), fresh herbs (if using), salt and pepper, and simmer for a further 30-40 minutes. (If you are using the remains of a cold roast, chop it and add 10-15 minutes before serving.)
  • Serve in bowls, with a generous sprinkling of parsley, and “doorsteps” of bread, quartered.
    • If you cooked the meat in the initial stock as a single joint, traditionally you would remove it just before serving and set it aside to rest. Serve it as a main course, perhaps with potatoes (boiled or mashed) or Yorkshire puddings, and a green vegetable.

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