By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3
I am fifty-two years old. When I stare longingly into a bowl of Wisconsin beer-cheese soup, chock-full of cream, butter, milk and gobs of extra sharp cheddar, I think of three things: deliciousness, heart attacks and constipation. I mean, don’t you?
I love Beer-Cheese Soup. It has stood the test of time and is so delicious on a rainy and chilly day. It certainly would not pass my doctor’s approved dietary list. However, not being one to listen to my doctor very often (sorry, Doc), this is always a standby for me.
Akin to a good New England Clam Chowder, or a Southern Roasted Corn & Chicken Chowder or even our own Cream of Crab Soup, there is a regional dalliance with creamy, hot soups once the weather takes a turn for the worse. And this is no exception. Served with hot, soft pretzels, there is little to which to compare.
Now, it’s important to understand what I’m asking you to do here. As you read the recipe, you will see that you will need to puree a piping hot soup, a truly dangerous task, but one that need not be. I learned this the hard way at the Culinary Institute of America in 2003.
I was the executive chef for Ocean Pines, and I was sitting for a four-day exam, ProChef-2 to be precise. I was eager, precise and (I thought) ready. As we entered our four-hour Healthy Cooking exam, I had my plan laid out. I broke down a whole chicken in 37 seconds, had Tracy clean the English peas and mint, and continued with my mise en place.
Tracy was a senior at the CIA, and she was my assistant/apprentice for the day. She was stellar and stoic as could be, thank the good Lord. I cooked, heated, blanched, poached and prepped my way to the point of pureeing the pea soup studded with mint. This was my first experience with a Vitamix blender.
I put the ingredients in the cup, hit ‘go’ and steaming-hot crap went everywhere. Luckily, neither one of us was hit with the ubiquitous I Love Lucy scalding splatter. Every sitcom that I watched as a child coursed through my brain. Having learned years earlier to keep my cool, I turned it off, looked at Tracy and said “I’ll clean this up. Please get me some more mise together.” She professionally obliged, and I moved onward with my plan.
All seemed well and I perceived that it had gone unnoticed, when the looming European chef (the floor judge) walked up behind me and said quietly enough so that no one else could hear him but me, “Chef, I do not mean to tell you that you do not know what the f*** you are doing, but you do not know what the f*** you are doing.” And he walked away. I froze, knowing that I had just failed, and wasted six months of arduous training and studying for this moment.
I earned the highest score that day out of the examinees. And, I never made this mistake again.
Please be careful.
*Soup prepared by Bob Dixon
Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup
Makes about 1 gallon
4 oz. clarified butter
1/2 medium white onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 rib celery, finely diced
1/2 c. Diced carrot
4 oz. AP Flour
2 c. Chicken stock
1 bottle Beer (Wisconsin preferred, of course)
1 qt. Whole milk
1 qt. Cream
3 c. Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and room temperature
1 c. Diced kielbasa, sauteed in a pan
Cayenne, to taste
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1. Please refer to the story above, as it may save you from some serious burns.
2. Heat the butter in a soup pot large enough to hold all the ingredients.
3. Add the onions, garlic, celery and carrot and cook for about four or five minutes, or until they have developed some color and your kitchen starts to smell of Thanksgiving. Of course, if your mom always burns Thanksgiving dinner, then turn the burner down a little bit.
4. Add the flour and cook for a couple minutes, stirring regularly.
5. When the raw flavors of the flour have cooked out, add the chicken stock a little at a time. It will thicken instantly. Hold fast and stand strong.
6. Next, add the beer in little doses and then add the milk and cream. You should have a nice creamy soup (with vegetable chunks) that is now ready to run through the blender.
7. Carefully, and if batches if necessary, puree the soup in a high-speed blender or use an immersion blender. Make this bad boy super smooth.
8. When you are happy with the consistency of the soup, return it to the pan.
9. Add the cheese, stirring all the while, until it is melted throughout.
10. If you need to amend the soup with stock or milk, feel free. You want a beautiful, creamy soup that will be viscous enough to warm the soul while not setting as a bowl of Elmer’s glue.
11. Add the cooked kielbasa and finish seasoning. Be careful as you add the salt, as there is also salt in the sausage. Go a little light and let it sit for a bit. Adjust at the very end. Serve with soft pretzels (I mean, homemade ones if you’re cool enough).
—Paul Suplee is a Professor of Culinary Arts
at Wor-Wic Community College
and owner of boxcar40.
Visit him at www.boxcar40.com.