stove top vs slow cooker
You had me at beer. And cheese. And bacon. That's how I feel about this soup.
There are few better ways to warm up than with a stove top creamy potato soup. I intentionally say stove top because I wanted to serve up a thick and hearty soup recipe that didn't require a slow cooker. There are times when that's just not possible, or it's too late in the day to start a slow cooked meal. This Beer Cheese Potato Bacon Soup takes under 45 minutes and it's super thick, super hearty, and super filling.
how to make bacon crispy in the soup
Start by frying the bacon pieces in the bottom of the pot until extremely crispy. You want to aim for the point that's as done as you can get, before burning. Obviously, we don't want black bacon, but getting it as crispy as possible allows it to maintain as much texture and chew as possible while being in the soup. Otherwise as semi-crisp bacon would end up being sort of ham-textured once it was allowed to simmer in the soup. We also do this first step with nothing else in the pan to crowd the bacon; this also helps up the crisp factor. Crowding the bacon with other ingredients would end up having a steaming effect, resulting in soggy bacon.
Once the bacon is completely crispy, remove it from the pan to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Give the pieces some room and scatter them, rather than just dumping them in one heap on the plate so that they can cool off without getting soggy. Drain all but a couple of tablespoons worth of excess oil from the pan; use this oil for the next step. Remove pan from heat.
pre-cook the potatoes for the soup
While the bacon is frying and/or draining, prep the potatoes, onions, and garlic. Starting with the potatoes, peel and rinse them and dice them into 1/2 inch cubes. (If you aren't quite sure how to tackle even potato cubing, start by slicing them into half inch thick ovals, then slice those ovals into 1/2 wide sticks, then slice the sticks long ways into the cubes.)
Add the potatoes to the oil, and saute on medium high heat. Keep an eye on them, and stir them around so they don't burn. This gives the potato cooking process a jump start, helping speed up cooking time. With the potatoes frying in the pan, peel and mince one small to medium sized onion and add that to the potatoes. Follow with the peeled, minced garlic cloves. Saute until the onions begin to soften and slightly caramelize; this is about the time the potatoes are halfway done. If you aren't sure, poke one of the potatoes with a fork and judge is tenderness, you should be able to poke the fork in, but still feel that there's some firmness to it. At this point, it should look like a sort of hash.
what kind of beer to use in beer cheese potato bacon soup
This next step is one of my favorite things to do in cooking, and it's called deglazing. Deglaze is just a term that describes adding liquid to a hot pan and the cooked pieces in it, loosening up everything that is stuck to the bottom of the pan. You'll see that (along with a nice whoosh sound) it literally cleans up anything stuck on the bottom of the pan. And those little bits and pieces are flavor, and they add a lot to the soup. Another element you won't get by cooking in a slow cooker.
For this recipe, we deglaze with the beer. The stock would have the same action, but I choose to use the beer first because it immediately simmers the alcohol out faster. The best beer to use for this beer cheese type soup, is a medium bodied beer, like an amber ale, although light lagers can be used too. The more full bodied beer like an amber is going to give a richer taste, and you'll taste the beer itself more. The type of beer that works for this soup is definitely subject to personal preference, however do stay away from an extremely hoppy beer like an IPA. They will be too bitter.
pay attention to simmer level
Add the stock and the seasonings and stir. Reduce heat to medium. The liquids need to be at a medium simmer; not a rolling boil, but definitely bubbling away. Let it simmer there for 20 minutes. During this time, the potatoes will cook through and liquids will reduce and flavors combine.
thickening and finishing the soup
After 20 minutes, check that the potatoes are done. (If they need a bit longer, let them go until they are finished cooking.) Remove the pot from the heat. Whisk the cornstarch together with a splash of water. You only need enough water to dissolve the cornstarch into a thin liquid so about a few tablespoons should be enough. Whisk until no lumps remain. This is called a cornstarch "slurry". Add the slurry to the pot, along with the heavy cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and crispy bacon pieces. Side note-never use pre-shredded cheese. It doesn't melt evenly or smoothly because it's packaged with anti-caking ingredients. It's definitely worth the extra few minutes to shred it off the block!
Stir those ingredients into the soup, and return the pot to the heat, this time lowering it just slightly to medium low. The soup needs to cook on a low simmer this time. Hot enough to cause the cornstarch slurry to thicken the soup, and for the cheese to melt. But too high, and it will curdle a bit. This is when you see little white solids develop, and it's just something that happens when dairies get too hot, among other reasons. Heavier creams generally tolerate higher heat than say, milk, but they are still susceptible to it. It doesn't actually harm the soup, or you, it's just visually not as appealing. But if you notice this happening, just accept it and eat it that way, don't throw it out!
what to serve with beer cheese potato bacon soup
The soup is done when you notice it thicken up to a chowdery consistency, and the cheese is fully melted. This soup is amazing served with a crusty bread or roll for dipping. For an easy, homemade crusty side bread try this soft on the inside, crusty on the outside, perfect for dipping Basic Bread Recipe.
And while a basic bread is always a perfect sidekick to a good soup, you also can't go wrong with a classic grilled cheese!
Beer Cheese Potato Bacon Soup
- 1/2 pound bacon cut into pieces
- 3 cups chicken stock can substitute chicken broth, but note that broth is generally saltier, so taste before adding any extra salt
- 12 oz light lager or amber ale beer
- 4 cloves garlic peeled, minced
- 1 small to medium sized onion peeled, minced
- 3 lbs russet potatoes peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 tbsp corn starch whisked into a few tablespoons of water until dissolved and milky, a.k.a. "slurry"
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 3 bay leaves
- 8 oz block extra sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh parsley for garnishing optional
- In a large stock pot, cook diced bacon until extra crispy (don’t be afraid to really crisp this up, because you don’t want it to end up soggy in the soup). Remove bacon from pot and scatter onto paper towel lined plate. Drain all but a couple tablespoons of grease reserved in pan
- On medium high heat, add peeled, diced potatoes to pan and stir to coat in grease. Add minced onion and garlic. Fry until potatoes are halfway cooked though and onions are beginning to caramelize.
- Pour beer into pot; scrape up any brown bits stuck to bottom of the pan and let alcohol evaporate for 5 minutes.
- Add stock, garlic and onion powders, and bay leaves; Simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes.
- Whisk the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of water. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cornstarch slurry, heavy cream, crispy bacon pieces, and freshly shredded cheddar. Return pot to low heat this time, and simmer on low for 5 to 10 minutes until thickened and cheese is fully melted.
- Check salt and pepper levels, adjust to your liking. Using chicken broth instead of stock generally adds more sodium than stock, so adding salt may not be necessary in all cases.