Scotch Broth

Image of frosted hydrangeaIn cold and icy weather there are few things more cheering than a big bowl of soup, thick with vegetables and pulses and preferably underpinned by something meaty.

There are probably as many versions of Scotch Broth – known in Glasgow as Your Granny’s Soup – as there are Scottish households. With not a drop of Scots blood in my veins, it is (unusually for a Sassenach) with some humility that I offer my version. 

My sister-in-law, who has lived north of the border for many years, makes hers with boiling beef. I’ve seen versions that are entirely vegetarian. Mine is made with lamb belly and it’s best prepared a day ahead so the flavours can develop and the fat be skimmed from the soup. I say soup, but it’s almost a stew, and a wonderfully warming and rib-sticking dish for a cold winter’s evening.

It’s cheap to make but does require the investment of your time.

Pearl barley is a traditional ingredient, as are red lentils. If you buy a dried soup mix it usually includes peas too, so I’ve included some here. Soak the peas (or the pre-made soup mix, if using) the night before embarking on the recipe. I prefer to add fresh vegetables on day two so they retain some bite and integrity rather than cooking to a mush, but it’s a matter of taste.

Scotch Broth

Image of Scotch Broth

Ingredients for Day 1:

About 1kg lamb belly/breast of lamb

1 whole onion

1 carrot, trimmed and halved

2 sticks of celery, halved

2 bay leaves + handful of parsley stalks, tied in a bundle

2 1/2 litres of water

60g pearl barley

30g dried peas, pre-soaked

30g red lentils

1 tspn salt

Day 2:

300 g carrots, peeled and diced small

150 g swede (or turnip), peeled and diced small

250 g celery, finely diced

350 g leeks, finely sliced

You can also use waxy potatoes, cabbage or spring greens … three or four fresh veg are probably enough, otherwise the flavours get a bit blurred, but use what makes sense to you. My Scots granny, if I had one, would tell me not to be so precious.

Black pepper, to taste

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, to finish

Image of chopped vegetables


Cut the lamb breast into three or four pieces, put in a large pan with the first batch of veg and herbs and add the cold water. Bring to a boil and skim any scum from the surface. Cook at a gentle simmer for about an hour, continuing to skim as necessary.

Add the pearl barley, lentils and peas and the salt and simmer on a low heat at a bare burble for another 30 minutes, or until the meat is falling off the bone and the pulses are cooked. Remove from the heat, take out the meat and when it’s cool enough, remove and discard the skin and bones.

Chop it roughly and put it back into the pot. Do the same with the onion. It’s easier to skim the broth with a whole onion in than lots of chopped onion floating about, hence the burned fingers now.

I discard the limp celery and carrot (and the herb bundle) at this point in favour of fresher versions next day, but cut them up and leave them in if you prefer. Allow the broth to cool then refrigerate overnight.

Next day, remove the fat that’s floated to the top of the pan, bring the soup back up to heat and add the next batch of vegetables. Check the seasoning, adding black pepper and more salt if necessary. Cook until the vegetables are tender, stir through the parsley and serve in deep bowls.

Image of Scotch Broth, served

6 thoughts on “Scotch Broth

  1. Oh, it’s ages since I’ve made a proper trad. Scotch broth. Thanks for the reminder. I do tend to prefer the vegetarian variety, but all are good. Pearl barley for me too. I tend to chuck red lentils in so many soups x

  2. A cracking broth. The world has gone a bit mad in that people are using pearl barley instead of rice in risotto and only a few die-hards like you are using it correctly by making lovely soups. More of this please.

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