Saturday, October 31, 2009

Creamy Potato Cheese Soup

This morning was the first time all week we've seen the sun. We've had rainy, chilly fall weather in St. Louis since last weekend-- the perfect excuse for making a rich, creamy soup. Before we moved here, my husband had started ordering potato soup at one of our favorite restaurants. I decided to try my hand at creating a version he would eat at home. My sister-in-law makes a good cheesy potato soup, so I called to ask her about her method. She couldn't remember all of the steps, but the ingredients were pretty much what I expected. Using her recipe as a starting point, I set to work. Here's what I came up with:

Potato Cheese Soup:
7-8 c. potatoes, peeled and diced (I used 3 LARGE russet bakers, cut into about a 1/2 in. dice)
4 c. chicken stock (if using storebought, a 32 oz. box is perfect)
1 tsp. salt
2 c. milk (I used 2%, but whole milk would make a much richer soup)
2 c. shredded cheese (I used mild chedder)
5-6 strips bacon
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp. flour
Freshly ground pepper
Hot sauce

I combined the potatoes, salt, and stock in my dutch oven and put them over medium heat to cook, covered. I know it seems like a lot of salt, but potatoes absorb a lot of sodium while cooking. While the potatoes were cooking, I cut the strips of bacon in half and cooked them in two batches in my non-stick skillet. Once the bacon was nice and crispy, I removed the strips to a paper towel-covered plate to drain. I reserved two tablespoons of the bacon grease and discarded the rest, wiping out the pan with a paper towel. I returned the reserved grease to the hot pan and added in the chopped onions, cooking them until they were soft and translucent. Once the onions were cooked, I sprinkled the flour over them and stirred it in. This will help thicken the soup later.

Once the potatoes were tender, I removed two cups of stock and several scoops of potatoes. I added the milk, four strips of the bacon (crumbled), a few generous dashes of hot sauce, and the cooked onions to the remaining potatoes and stock. Then I used my stick blender to puree the mixture. You could also use a blender, but it may need to be done in batches. It is also important to take care when puring hot soups in a blender, leaving the lid partially open and covered with a towel (you don't want a volcanic explosion of potato soup in your kitchen).

After I blended the soup, I stirred in the reserved potatoes and most of the stock. I ended up using all but 1/3 c. of the stock, but it depends on how thick you want your soup to be. Also, the soup will thicken as it cools, so you may want to make it a little on the thin side to begin with. I stirred in the two cups of cheese until it melted, and added a few grinds of black pepper. I served the soup and topped our bowls with the remaining bacon. Sliced scallions would also be delicious on top.

My sister-in-law knows someone who adds ham to this soup. It could be made with beef stock and vegetables, even left unpureed for more of a stew. You could also puree all of the potatoes if you find chunks objectionable. Use a more daring cheese in place of the cheddar (gruyere, perhaps)? Maybe substitute beer for some of the stock? This recipe could be a starting-point for your perfect potato soup. Be creative and enjoy!

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