Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creamy Potato Bacon Soup

 This soup really is a heavily bastardized version of caldo verde.  I'm very familiar with this fact, as I started out a few years ago making caldo verde, and it has finally evolved into this slightly different version that you see below.  I like the play of the bacon to the potatoes more so than any sausage that I have tried, and a good quality raw cheddar cheese seemed like a natural topping for a soup that already tasted like a bacon stuffed baked potato.

To start, get yourself a big sack of potatoes.  I would highly recommend going with a gold potato or even a red potato, as baking or russet potatoes don't really lend themselves well to this recipe.  Below you'll see that I went with some beautiful yukon golds.
Yukon Gold, baby.
Due to the fact that I happened to be in the midst of making a chicken stock while preparing this soup, I scrubbed the potatoes very well so that I could save the skins to add to the stock.  I then set up a peeling station, because 5 pounds of #1 potatoes takes a while to peel.  Once peeled, I put the potatoes into a large bowl filled with cold water and some ascorbic acid.  I did this to prevent them from oxidizing while I was working on the rest of the ingredients (of which there really aren't many).  Some lemon juice in the water, or even just the plain cold water by itself would work fine if you don't have any ascorbic acid or vitamin C laying around.  I did.
My dad used to tell me how much fun he had peeling potatoes in the navy.
Once the potatoes were peeled, I then cut them in half lengthwise and then into 1/4" thick slices.  I returned the slices of potato to the large bowl of cold water.  After that, I chopped this marvelous 18 ounce pack of thick, apple-wood smoked bacon into a small dice.
Bacon has magical properties on the internet, right?
I then tossed the diced bacon into a very large pan and let it brown.
Looking Good
Looking Better.  We can just stop here, right?
After the bacon got crispy, I removed it and placed it in a small bowl to just hang out for a while.  I also drained most of the bacon grease out of the pan.  This bacon grease went into the fridge, where it is still performing feats of awesomeness, such as frying eggs or being slathered all over whole chickens before roasting.  I did leave a few tablespoons of the bacon grease in the pan, and to this I added the drained potato slices.
While the potatoes were frying in the bacon fat...hang on, let me just savor the thought...I poured the liquid that I had used to soak the potatoes into a small saucepan and reduced it in volume to roughly one quart.  I was going to need some extra liquid, and rather than just add water I thought that it would be much more sensible to use the water that was already full of potato starch and any other enrichment that may have leached out of the potatoes while they were soaking.  Once the potatoes had browned just slightly, I poured this reduced liquid into the potato pan.
I also added a quart of rich beef stock for a heavy dose of nutrients and some excellent background flavor notes.  Chicken stock would work very well, too. 
If I can put bone stock into something, I will put bone stock into something.
Once the potatoes were well established in copious amounts of liquid, I turned the heat down and let them simmer while I ate all of the bacon.  Just kidding.  I simmered the potatoes until they were very soft, and then blended them along with the cooking liquid until velvety smooth.  I incorporated the bacon pieces back into the creamed potatoes and poured the whole mess into my slow cooker in order to let the flavors meld together for a few hours at a low temperature.  You don't need to use a slow cooker, but I did so that I could just walk away from the whole operation without fear of having anything burn.
Just hanging out and getting friendly
At some point in time I think that I took a nap.  I undoubtedly wasted some time on the internet.  However, I'm sure that I took a large bunch of lacinato kale that I had washed and sliced the rubs out of the leaves before cutting leaves into fairly fine slices.  I used lacinato kale because it sounds much more pretentious than regular kale.  Regular kale is for chumps, right?  This is a blog about food, so I felt obligated to opt for the fancier version of this robust leafy green.  Feel free to use regular kale when you make your own version, but be sure to tell your friends and loved ones that you used regular old kale because you truly don't give a damn about them.  Meanwhile I will continue to use my fancy kale.

OK, the lacinato is also a darker color and is not as crinkly, so it does look a lot better in soups like this.  That's actually what drew me to it in the first place.  Anyway, shortly before it's time to serve, stir the sliced kale into the soup and just cook it for about 10-15 minutes at most.  It will turn a very mice shade of green and be soft without totally falling apart.  The soup is very rich and savory, and the sturdy green of the kale (lacinato or otherwise) juxtaposes this in a wonderful way.  I elected to top the soup with some freshly shredded raw cheddar cheese, which was very good, or you can omit the cheese and just enjoy it how it is.  I put it into a hot thermos and sent it off with Christa for lunch.

So, in summary:

Creamy Potato Bacon Soup

  • 5 lbs of yellow potatoes
  • 16-18 ounces of good thick cut bacon
  • 1 quart of beef stock
  • 1 head of lacinato kale (or regular kale)
  • cheddar cheese to taste (optional)

1)  Peel potatoes and place in bowl of cool water with some vitamin C (to prevent oxidation)
2)  Cut potatoes into 1/4" thick slices and return to water to continue soaking.
3)  Dice the bacon and fry until crispy.  Remove the bacon from the pan, and reserve all but 2-3 tablespoons of the bacon grease for other projects.  In this 2-3 tablespoons of grease, toss the sliced potatoes to brown.  Meanwhile, reduce the soaking water to roughly one quart in volume.
4)  Once potatoes are brown, add reduced water and beef stock.  Simmer until the potatoes are soft.
5)  Blend the potatoes in their cooking liquid until smooth.  Add the bacon to this and simmer for a few hours to meld the flavors together.  I used a slow cooker for this part of the process because it was just much easier than manning a pot.
6)  Shortly before serving, stir the sliced kale into the soup to cook.  It won't take long for the kale to turn emerald green.  Ladle into bowls and top with shredded cheddar cheese.

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