“I live on good soup, not on fine words.”
“A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.”
As I write this, it’s warm — almost springlike — outside. But Texas winters are like fickle lovers or fair-weather friends; they will turn on you at a moment’s notice, and before you know it the temperature looks like the average point total for this year’s Cowboys offense.
Longtime readers of this blog will know that I believe that beer goes as well, if not better, with food than wine does. And when the wolf of winter howls at the door — albeit briefly — I turn my thoughts to soup, and the beer that goes with and in it. It’s pretty obvious that I like good food; so today, I will offer you some soup ideas that will keep you warm until spring. (Which, around here, starts just about Superbowl time.)
Let’s start with a classic that I see no reason to improve upon — Beef and Guinness Stew.
- 2 pounds stewing beef
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons flour
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of cayenne
- 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 tablespoons tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
- 1 1/4 cups Guinness
- 2 cups largely diced carrots
- Sprig of fresh thyme
Trim the meat of any fat or gristle, and cut into 2-inch cubes. Toss beef with 1 tablespoon of the oil. In a small bowl, season the flour with salt, pepper and cayenne. Toss meat with seasoned flour. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Reduce the heat, add the onions, crushed garlic and tomato puree to the skillet, cover, and cook gently for 5 minutes. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a casserole and pour half of the Guinness into the skillet. Bring Guinness to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan. Pour over the meat, along with the remaining Guinness. Add the carrots and thyme. Stir and adjust seasonings. Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat, or in a 300 degree F oven until the meat is tender, 2 to 3 hours. Garnish the beef with parsley and serve.
Stewing beef with beer is nothing new — the classic Flemish carbonnades flamandes is practically the national dish of Belgium. But there’s something in the dark roast and sweetness of the Guinness that takes on a personality all its own. While I haven’t tried making this with the new Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, that is going to have to happen — and soon.
Now, on to chowder. I love chowder — seafood, cream, pork, and potatoes make me very happy. This is one of my favorite chowders ever. I originally got the recipe from Chef Jasper White’s Fifty Chowders, but I’ve adulterated it (and, I admit, simplified it a little).
4 ounces meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice (you can use bacon, but it won’t be the same)
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, cut into 3/4-inch dice
½ tsp dried thyme
2 dried bay leaves
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/3-inch thick
4 cups stock (ready made fish stock works fine; otherwise, use chicken)
1 cup amber beer (I like something with a little sweetness to it; St Arnold’s Amber works well)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 pounds whitefish fillets (you can go high end and use halibut or haddock, or be frugal like yours truly and use frozen tilapia, thawed)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (don’t skimp here)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper
Heat a 4 to 6 quart heavy pot over low heat. Add the salt pork or bacon and render fat. Once you have a few tablespoons, turn the heat up to medium and brown the pork product. Remove with a slotted spoon; set aside.
Add butter, onion, thyme, and bay leaves. Saute onions over medium heat until soft but not brown — eight to ten minutes or so. Add the potatoes, stock, and beer; if the liquid doesn’t completely cover the potatoes, add more water or stock to cover. Bring to boil. Cover and boil for about ten minutes until the potatoes are soft around the edges but still firm in the middle. If the stock hasn’t thickened, smash a few slices of potatoes against the side of the pot.
Reduce the heat to low. Season heavily — remember that you’re going to have to overseason at this point, since you’re adding fish and cream. Add the fish fillets and cook over a low heat until the fish is almost done, five minutes or so. Turn off the heat, cover the chowder, and leave it for ten minutes. At that point, add the cream, taste it for salt and pepper, and then put the lid on and LEAVE IT for an hour. (This really does make a difference, I swear. An hour makes the flavor smoother and more unified.)
Serve topped with bacon or salt pork cracklings and chopped chive. Good bread or crackers on the side and more beer, and you’re good to go. Add a green salad or steamed greens if you feel virtuous — quick-sauteed spinach with lemon and garlic makes a cross-cuisine home run.
Are you interested in more beer and food pairings? My go-to reference for such things is Garrett Oliver’s “The Brewmaster’s Table”. I go back to it time and again for ideas. Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, is an aggressive proponent of beer and fine dining, and I can’t agree with him more.
Here’s hoping you have something — and someone — to keep you warm this January. Here’s also hoping that at your house, you can say ‘Beer’s cold and soup’s on!’
Until next month, keep your head up, your lace delicate, your malt toasty, and your hops snappy.