By Andy Mueller
With cooler temps on the horizon, we start to think of things that take the chill away.
I can’t think of a better way to kick off fall than a hot cup of soup and some crusty bread riding shotgun.
If you want to hit the trifecta in the process, make a soup using what Wisconsinites made famous: Beer, cheese and bacon.
On their own, each ingredient invokes an emotion, but together, they live in harmony and culinary bliss.
Although the exact origin is one of differing opinion, the general consensus is that Beer Cheese Soup was brought to Wisconsin by the many German immigrants who settled here.
A popular German tradition featuring stock, beer, cheese and savory ingredients was considered common practice once an egg or two were introduced as a thickener and, more importantly, a socially acceptable reason to have beer for breakfast.
Over the years, we Wisconsinites polished the recipe by adding different blends of cheeses like cheddar, pepper jack, gouda etc., and as soon as someone introduced bacon to the pot, a culinary trifecta was born.
As the recipes and styles differ from one region to the next, so do the flavor profiles, the ease (or difficulty) of the preparation, and, in some cases, potentially disappointing results.
Trying to incorporate cheese into a soup can be a challenge, as the better the cheddar, the harder it is to melt.
Think of a grilled cheese with American cheese – melts beautifully even though it’s not really cheese.
In fact it used to say right on the label it’s “cheese food.” Cheese food? So is that what cheese eats? No thanks.
A very sharp cheddar, although beautiful as is, doesn’t always love to play nice when melting into cream soups.
It can break, separate, and create a layer of oily streaks that not only look unappetizing, the mouth feel is less than desirable.
In order to pull off the perfect Beer Cheese Soup, remember to keep the heat low.
If it comes to a boil, it will most certainly break.
Keep adding the cheese slowly and wait for each handful to melt before adding more, and continue to stir the pot in one direction constantly while adding cheese.
This is similar to tempering which keeps the liquid warm enough to melt, but not hot enough to separate the solids.
Give this recipe a try and embrace the Sconnie inside.
Beer Cheese Soup
In a large stock pot over medium heat add:
5 tblsp. butter
As the butter melts add:
1 small onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. brown sugar
Stir as the onions start to sweat – be careful not to burn garlic, adjust heat if necessary
Add to the pot:
5-6 tblsp. flour
Stir to make a thick paste with the butter and flour mixture (also called a roux). Turn heat to medium low and cook the roux for several minutes to cook out the raw glutens that make the soup grainy.
Add to the pot:
1 12 oz. can/bottle of beer – light beer for a milder profile or craft beer for a full bodied background. Be careful with IPA’s they have a strong presence and can overpower the soup. Stir in the beer briskly to make sure the base of the soup is free of lumps. Continue to cook over medium low heat until liquid starts to simmer, then add:
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 small can green Chile’s, diced and drained
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tblsp. Worcestershire sauce
Whisk ingredients to combine and bring back to a low simmer. Add to the soup one handful at a time while constantly stirring in the same direction:
4 oz. grated pepper jack cheese
4 oz. grated mild cheddar
5 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tblsp. whipped creamed cheese at room temperature
1 tsp. Sriracha sauce
Anywhere from 4-10 dashes of Tabasco or your favorite hot sauce
Bring to a low simmer, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
For the Parmesan crisp:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a layer of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Lightly spray the sheet with pan spray. Place a tablespoon of shredded Parmesan on the paper to make a thin layer, repeat to make six thin discs.
Bake for 5-7 minutes or until the cheese starts to brown. Remove from the oven, let rest for 1 minute. Use a spatula to remove each disc and place on the back of a small bowl to form a Parmesan cup. Let cool for 10 minutes.
Pop some popcorn and as you add your normal butter, also add a few tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro and parsley. Mix thoroughly. Ladle soup into cups or bowls, top with crumbled cooked bacon, diced green onions and a little popcorn. Serve a side of popcorn in the Parmesan cup for added garnish as you eat.
Chef Andy Mueller is Owner Chef of Galley 57 Supper Club in Bellevue – galley57.com.