Posted on | January 26, 2009 | 68 Comments
We’re eating a lot of potato soup lately. It’s cheap, easy to make and versatile enough that I can change up some ingredient to give it a new flavor so we don’t get bored. Recent incarnations have included freshly ground cumin seed, corn, roasted red peppers, hot peppers and kale (not all together…ew).
Chatting with Debra about the comfort and dependability of a good pot of potato soup, she told me she’s been making hers baked recently. We had to sign off so I never got a chance to ask her for a recipe, but the idea of baked potato soup knocked around in my mind for days and yesterday I fired up the oven to roast a pastured chicken and thought I’d make double use of the hot oven with some baked potato soup.
To my thinking, a baked potato is at its best when salty, cheesy, lavishly dusted with cracked pepper, sprinkled with crisp bacon and fresh, bright green scallions. How to turn that vision into soup?
Set a large oven-proof pot or enameled Dutch oven on the burner, over medium heat. Cut 6 slices of bacon into one inch pieces and cook in the pot until crisp and dark.
While the bacon cooks, cut one medium sweet onion and two celery stalks into small dice. Peel a dozen or so potatoes, cut into one inch pieces. Don’t let that bacon burn or your house will smell as if a teenager made bacon and eggs for all of his Dungeons and Dragons buddies last Sunday morning. I’m just saying, because my hair still stinks.
Scoop out and set aside the bacon bits for the garnish and remove all but about two tablespoons of the drippings. Add the onion and celery to the hot drippings and cook over medium heat until transparent (about ten minutes), scraping up the crispy bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the potatoes and continue cooking and stirring occasionally for another ten minutes. Now’s the time to add the cracked pepper to taste. I like a lot, but you know your own taste buds so I won’t suggest a measurement. You’d probably think I’m crazy. Oh, and some salt too. I use Kosher salt for most of my cooking unless I’ve splurged on some Maldon, which is phenomenal in soups like this, but I didn’t have any on hand today, so Kosher, at about 2 teaspoons.
Add enough water or stock (vegetable or chicken) to just cover the potatoes, turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Now’s the time to pull the roasting chicken out of the oven and give it a turn because if you’re like me, you put it in upside down, about an hour ago after giving it a vigorous massage with herbed and salted butter. Now you’ll flip it so it’s tits up — hopefully much moister tits than they would have been if you’d cooked it that way from the start — and put it back in, but long-wise so you have room to slide the Dutch oven in next to the old girl.
While it cooks, grate 1.5 cups of extra sharp cheddar, chop 1/2 cup fresh Parsley and slice 4-5 scallions into thin rounds.
I don’t think you can overcook this soup. Mine stayed in for 2.5 hours (it was a really big chicken) and when I pulled it out and lifted the lid, it was a creamy, bubbling cauldron of yum.
If you’ve got an immersion blender (and if you don’t, just go get one already, they make cooking so much easier) whirl it up for a few minutes, but leave about half of the potatoes big. Or puree half of the soup in a blender or food processor and add it back to the pot. Now add the milk. I use evaporated milk (as does Debra) and depending on how thick you like it use 1-2 cans, or 1.5-3 cups of milk, or half and half, or heavy cream, or some combination thereof. Stir gently. Taste. Add more salt and pepper (you know you want to) but remember you’ve got a bunch of salty cheddar to mix in, and all of those bacon crumbles and scallions for the top so don’t over-do it.
Sprinkle the cheese and parsley over the surface of the hot soup and mix it in until the cheese is well-melted. Ladle into BIG bowls and sprinkle the homemade bacon bits and scallions on top.
When you’re done eating, I want to hear all about it. Seriously. Is this or is this not the best potato soup ever?