Comfort food: Kansas City-style steak soup has hundreds of variations

Originally published in the  Jan 26, 2011 edition of The Joplin Globe.

Much like the old St. Louis Famous Barr French onion soup recipe, the Kansas City Plaza III steak soup recipe has found fame far beyond the community in which it was created.

Enter the words “Plaza III steak soup recipe” in an Internet search and some 10,000 listings will pop up. The hearty, thick soup has been a staple at the landmark Kansas City steakhouse almost since the day the restaurant opened in 1963.

Sometimes the term “comfort food” tends to get tossed around too casually, but when the term is applied to this steak soup, it is definitely appropriate. The combination of beef, vegetables, tomatoes and the soup’s deep, rich broth make it a perfect meal on a cold, blustery, winter evening. Add a glass of Cabernet and a loaf of crusty bread and you will almost forget that spring is still more than six weeks away.

Like many recipes, the Plaza III steak soup recipe has hundreds of variations. I happen to have a copy of the original recipe that was sent to me almost 20 years ago by my wife’s aunt and uncle who used to live on the Plaza in Kansas City. My older sister fixes a variation of the Plaza III recipe that she found in a cookbook called “A Cooking Affaire” by Jan Bertogilo and JoLe Hudson. The recipe that I use and have included, along with the Plaza III recipe, is a combination of both.

The main difference between the two recipes concerns the soup’s liquid base. The Plaza III recipe calls for a little more than a quart of water, while the recipe that I prefer calls for four cans of beef consommŽ. Either works, but I have found that the beef consommŽ gives the soup a stronger, beefier flavor.

In addition, the restaurant’s soup recipe calls for ground chuck while I use sirloin. I have prepared the soup both ways, and while ground chuck works well, I prefer the sirloin. My sister’s recipe calls for a combination of both ground chuck and sirloin.

The real strength of the recipe, I think, is that it lends itself to change. It’s the sort of recipe that allows you to add or subtract ingredients to suit your own tastes yet retains its same basic flavor.

The soup’s texture comes from the simple quick roux of butter and flour that serves as the base for the dish. Without the roux the soup would not have its slight thickness, nor would it have its distinctive color.

Fans of Louisiana cooking know that a traditional Cajun roux can take up to 30 minutes to prepare and must be done with the utmost care to avoid burning. While the Plaza III steak soup recipe’s roux takes much less time to prepare, it requires no less care.

To prepare the roux for the steak soup, melt a stick of butter over medium heat in a stock pot or Dutch over being careful not to let the butter brown. When the butter is melted, add the flour. Using a spoon or whisk, thoroughly mix the flour with the butter. When the flour and butter are mixed, continue cooking, stirring almost constantly for three minutes without allowing the mixture to brown. If you feel the roux is getting too hot, turn the heat down or simply lift the pan off the stove for a few seconds and then resume cooking.

Both recipes call for the soup to simmer for at least 30 minutes, but I have found that the longer it simmers the better the flavor. Besides the aroma of the simmer, steak soup makes me smile.

The soup can also be prepared a day ahead and then reheated, which tends to give the flavors more time to permeate through the soup. It also freezes well.

Plaza III steak soup

1 stick butter

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon Accent

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1 cup mixed vegetables

1 1/2 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet

1 quart, plus 1 cup water

1/2 chopped celery

1 tablespoon beef base

1/2 chopped onions

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1/2 ground chuck sliced

Brown and drain ground chuck. Pan boil onions, celery, and carrots. Melt butter in a 2-quart pan and add flour. Mix well. Add water, stir until thickened. Add Accent, pepper, beef base and tomatoes. Cook one minute more, stirring constantly. Add Kitchen Bouquet, all other vegetables, and ground chuck. Cook over medium heat 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts.

Recipe: Plaza III Steak House, Kansas City, Mo.


Mike’s modified Plaza III steak soup

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 stick butter

1/2 cup flour

4 cans (10-ounce) beef consomme

1/2 cups diced fresh carrots

1/2 cups fresh celery

1/2 cups fresh onion

1 can (8-ounce) chopped tomatoes

1 1/2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet

1/2 cup red wine

2 beef bouillon cubes

1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic

1 teaspoon thyme

2 bay leaves

1 package (16-ounce) frozen mixed vegetables

2 to 3 pounds sirloin sliced into small thin pieces

In a large skillet brown sirloin in oil, drain and set aside.

Melt butter in stock pot without browning. Add flour to butter and stir to form a paste. Cook over medium heat, without browning, for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add consomme to flour and butter mixture and stir until smooth and slightly thickened. Bring to full boil.

Add fresh vegetables, tomatoes, Kitchen Bouquet, wine, bouillon cubes and spices. Allow soup to come to a boil again and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add frozen vegetables and sirloin. Bring to a boil once again and simmer 20 to 30 minutes.

Serves 8.

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