Friday, March 15, 2013

Cheddar Beer Soup

The beloved and notoriously no-holds-barred Mrs. Julia Child once said: “I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put in the food I’m cooking.” It’s a well-known quote that you might likely find painted on a novelty plaque hanging in someone’s kitchen. In the case of this soup, I can say the same thing about beer. Why not? It is Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, after all.

I just recently finished reading the book Dearie, a newly published biography on Julia Child, by Bob Spitz. Her story and how she ended up becoming the cultural icon and food hero we all know, is as the subtitle of the book aptly describes, remarkable. Though she came from a wealthy family, she struggled to find herself before her late thirties when she more or less discovered her destiny in the buttery simplicity of a plate of sole meuniƩre in Paris.

Cook or not, there are quite a few things we all can learn from Julia that stretch beyond roasting a chicken, how to make the perfect French omelet, or even cooking “with” wine. Julia teaches us to embrace who we are; no matter how awkward, or if your voice warbles, own it and just be. Also, never apologize or admit your faults. If you trip, keep moving. Chances are, no one will even notice. Strive to be the absolute best at whatever it is that you do. Keep trying again and again until you get it just right. And most of all, Julia’s story is a reminder that it is never too late to discover a new passion or to find a new path. You may not always know where the road will lead, but there is no plan for life. Keep busy, go on adventures, and do what makes you happy. Your destiny will find you.

Right now though, it is this recipe’s fate to hopefully find its way into your kitchen. As much as I love to make soup, I made this pot of cheddar beer potage with the hopes that it would be the last one of the season—kind of a friendly farewell to winter and its rib-sticking hearty fare. For this soup, handfuls of shredded sharp white cheddar are melted into the broth, which is made with a bottle of ale, for a flavor combination that is tangy and smooth. Diced smoked ham, spicy pickled jalapeno for garnish, and pretzels as croutons make it the perfect pub food. Remember not to add all of your beer into the soup. Take note from Julia and keep some on the side for yourself. Cheers!

Cheddar Beer Soup
Yield: 4-6 Servings
- ½ stick butter
- ½ cup smoked ham, finely cubed, plus extra for garnish (optional)
- ½ cup onion, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1, 12 ounce bottle of ale
- 4 cups (about 1 pound) grated white extra-sharp cheddar, plus extra for garnish
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Minced pickled jalapeno, for garnish (optional)
- Crushed pretzel rods or nuggets, for garnish
1) In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the smoked ham cubes set aside for garnish (if desired) and cook, about 2 minutes; remove and set aside. Add the ½ cup smoked ham cubes and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant.
2) Reduce the heat to low. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, chicken stock, and beer, whisking as you pour. Bring the mixture to boil, and then reduce to a light simmer. Add the cheddar one handful at a time, whisking each addition until all is fully incorporated. Bring the soup back to a light simmer, stirring occasionally. Do not boil. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
3) To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with extra shredded cheddar, smoked ham cubes, minced jalapeno, and crushed pretzels.