Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Irish Cheddar Ale Soup

This fall, I shared some of my cooking goals for the year, and I've been slowly chipping away at them. I officially got the "canning bug" after making and canning apple butter, and my husband and I had a blast teaming up to make homemade pretzels.  I checked off another with this Irish Cheddar Ale Soup, featuring some of my husband's homebrew.  

We really loved this soup. It's all kinds of rich, using almost unseemly amounts of sharp cheddar and Irish Cheddar, but some days you need something that's comforting, creamy, and cheesy (and topped with bacon crumbles). For a contrast to the richness, it helps to serve it with a hunk of hearty whole wheat bread, a crusty baguette, or even a soft pretzel for dunking. 

Serves 6

6 thick-cut bacon slices, cut into 1/2 inch strips
2 Tb unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup (~3 small) carrots, peeled and sliced 
1/2 cup (~4 small) celery stalks, sliced 
1/4 tsp cayenne
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup amber ale (I used my husband's homebrew)
(The remainder of the 12 oz bottle is an added bonus for the cook)
1 Tb Worcestershire sauce
2 cups whole milk
2 cups chicken broth
3 cups (~2/3 lb) Irish cheddar, grated (I used Kerrygold Kilaree)
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Set a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon. Cook until crisp, stirring occasionally, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Scoop out excess bacon grease, leaving about 2 Tb in the bottom of the pot, and lower the heat to medium.

Add the butter to the pot. Once it melts, add in the onion, carrots and celery. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened. 

Add the cayenne and garlic, cooking just until fragrant, about 30 sec-1 min. 

Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly to make a roux (cooking the flour keeps it from tasting raw).

 Add the beer gradually, stirring constantly to incorporate with the roux. Cook until the mixture forms a thick paste, about 2-3 minutes. 

Stir together the Worcestershire sauce, milk, and chicken broth.  Add to the pot gradually, again stirring constantly until all is incorporated. 

Increase the heat to medium-high, and let the soup come to a simmer. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and puree the soup with an immersion blender (you could also use a food processor or a food mill, pureeing in batches if necessary)

Set the pot back over medium-low heat, and begin adding the cheese a little at a time, stirring constantly to incorporate (be sure to scrape the bottom periodically to prevent sticking). The soup has to be warm enough to melt the cheese, but be careful not to allow the soup to come to a boil. Continue until you've added all of the cheese and the soup is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Serve topped with the crumbled bacon. 

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