Creamy, dreamy potato soup with an irresistible twist: beer cheese and bacon! This is not your typical potato soup, and will easily become your new favorite way to enjoy the classic soup.
You had me at beer. And cheese. And bacon.
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 ½ 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 ½ wide sticks, then slice the sticks long ways into the cubes.)
Add the potatoes to the oil, and sauté 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. Sauté 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 no-knead Dutch Oven Bread.
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
- ½ pound bacon cut into pieces
- 1 small to medium sized onion peeled, minced
- 1 clove garlic peeled, minced
- 12 oz light lager or amber ale beer
- 3 lbs russet potatoes peeled and diced into ½ inch cubes
- 4 cups chicken stock can substitute chicken broth, but note that broth is generally saltier, so taste before adding any extra salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 tbsp corn starch whisked into a few tablespoons of water until dissolved and milky, a.k.a. "slurry"
- 8 oz block extra sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large pot, fry chopped bacon, onions and garlic until bacon is extra crispy (don’t be afraid to really crisp this up, because you don’t want it to end up soggy in the soup) and onions are softened. Drain grease.
- Pour in beer, scrape up any brown bits stuck to bottom of the pan and let alcohol evaporate for 5 minutes.
- Add peeled, diced potatoes, stock and salt and pepper to taste.
- Simmer on medium for 30 minutes, until potatoes are softened.
- Reduce heat to a low simmer, and whisk in the cornstarch slurry, heavy cream and cheese.
- Simmer for 10 minutes longer until thickened.
- To make this recipe in your slow cooker:
- Cook bacon first by either frying the pieces in a pan, or cooking the strips in the microwave on a plate lined with several paper towels until crispy, and then crumble into pieces.
- Add all ingredients to slow cooker, except for the cornstarch slurry, heavy cream, and cheese.
- Cook on low for 6-10 hours, or high for 4-6 hours, adding the cornstarch slurry, heavy cream and shredded cheese in during the last hour.
- Set pressure cooker to sauté function and sauté chopped bacon, onions,
- Add beer to pot and sauté for an additional 5-10 minutes.
- Add the stock and diced potatoes, and set cooker to high pressure for 10 minutes.
- Allow steam to naturally release.
- Add cornstarch slurry, heavy cream and shredded cheese.
- Turn the sauté function back on and let simmer for 10 minutes until thickened.