There is something at a local Buffalo restaurant that I crave. It is a simple bowl of soup but it is a decision maker for me in deciding where to eat, simply because I can have this treat. Every time I go to eat at the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery I inevitably order a bowl of their Gouda soup. It is smooth, creamy, cheesy and oh-so-flavorful. I have dreamt about what it might be like to pour this soup over cooked pasta shells and make a sort-of mac and cheese with it, but for some reason I never have. I guess there is really no need for that because it is so good as it, but it tells you how cheesy and rich it is! It is made with smoked gouda and their Lighthouse Beer, which is a blonde ale with some nice hops and malt flavor. Awesome. So this soup has put a taste for “beer cheese soup” in my mouth and I often order it elsewhere when it is available but am normally disappointed. Perhaps it was time for me to make some beer cheese soup of my own.
My soup was not meant to be a replica of the one at Pearl Street but I did want to capture the elements of that soup that make me so happy: smooth, rich, creamy, cheesy and flavorful. I decided to use andouille sausage in it which was a very good life choice! Chunks of sausage are rendered in a large dutch over and then removed (and added back in at the end of course), leaving a nice start to the flavor base that will be built. I then melted butter and cooked some garlic and onions. But I didn’t just sweat the onions, I took it a step further and allowed them to caramelize! YUM! Flour is then added and a roux is made to which a bottle of pale ale, chicken broth and a handful of other flavorful ingredients are added. After this thickens up, the heat is lowered and milk, cream and three different cheeses are incorporated. I then gave it a good buzz with my immersion blender to achieve the “smooth” criteria I was lusting after. I garnished the bowls with pieces of the crispy sausage and served it with some broiled wedges of sourdough bread, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. My first bite confirmed what I was so hoping: that I nailed it! Although it wasn’t meant to be the same as the Pearl Street soup, it did end up having a very similar flavor profile. Delicious. Yea, this soup isn’t going to last long in my house….
I used three cheeses in this soup and I chose them for one simple reason: I had them in the fridge! The primary cheese in this soup is a shredded 7 oz. round of Dubliner Irish Stout cheese. This is a firm, mature cheese with a bit of parmesan-like bite but also some sweetness. If you have never had it, is is worth seeking out at the specialty cheese section of your local mega-mart. Most times I find plain Dubliner but since I was making a beer cheese soup, I thought it was rather appropriate to use the Dubliner with Irish Stout! If you can’t find a dubliner, I think the best substitution would be Gouda. You can choose to use smoked or not smoked, according to your preference. I think I will try this recipe with a smoked Gouda to see how it changes the flavor and since that is the cheese used in the Pearl Street Grill soup. I felt that these ounces of cheese were not enough so I added in some grated manchego and shredded cheddar as well. Manchego is a hard, Spanish cheese that has a salty bit, very much like a Pecorino Romano. It is delicious and made a wonderful addition but if you can’t find it, just use the Pecorino Romano. Cheddar is cheddar and you know it will be delicious in soup! It also added some yellow to the color of the soup which was nice. With any cheese you choose to use, I can’t urge you strongly enough to grate and shred your own cheese! When you buy pre-shredded cheese, it never tastes as fresh and it is often coated with something like cornstarch to prevent it from sticking. This can cause graininess in your soup.
Besides the cheese, some cream and/or milk needed to be added to make this velvety. I didn’t want to go so far as to add all heavy cream, because I didn’t want it to be that rich (or fattening lol) but it is important to add some because it is much more stable in a hot soup than milk alone. I would recommend that you use the heavy cream in this and not substitute additional milk or half and half for it. If you do, just be aware that your soup will not be as creamy and could end up a bit grainy if you are not careful of how hot you heat your soup. A friend of mine recently asked me how to prevent a cream and cheese soup from “breaking” when adding the dairy. So I think this recipe and technique is a good example to answer this question. When adding milk and other dairy products to a hot soup, it is important that it never be heated to boiled after these ingredients have been added because your soup could “break” (causing an oil slick on the top of your soup) and/or become grainy. That is why is is best to add these with the soup over very low heat, or off the heat entirely. Although we have used heavy cream in this recipe, it is still important not to bring this to a boil after the dairy is added. A low simmer is fine because of course, you want to eat HOT soup!
If you like things a bit spicier, you can add more cayenne to this, but I found that the heat level was just right for me with a pinch of cayenne and the spicy andouille. If you don’t want things spicy, you can use a plain smoked sausage or omit the sausage altogether. You may also hold back on the cayenne but I think it adds a depth of flavor, along with the other ingredients.
I used slices of a small loaf of my own sourdough for this.
Had I contemplated this soup endeavor ahead of time, I may have chosen to make small boules of sourdough to use as bread-bowls! But this was delicious. I cut the bread into slices, placed them on a baking sheet and drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and pepper and broiled them for about 3 minutes, or until the edges began to char just a bit.
These were awesome served right in the soup, sopping up that cheesy goodness. You could also cut the bread into cubes and make croutons in a similar fashion, tossing to coat each with the oil and seasonings.
As I said previously, I used an immersion blender to turn this into a smooth, creamy soup. But you could certainly take it in the other directions if you like and I think I will this: cut the onions into slices instead of finely dicing and caramelize that that way and don’t blend them. This would add a nice texture, almost like the onions you would expect to find in French Onion Soup, except in a cheese beer soup! You could also add diced potatoes to the soup during the part of the recipe where you are simmering the broth and beer base. Cook until they are tender and the either them them like this for a great texture, or blend them as well for additional thickness and a nice potato flavor! I almost did this but decided to go the “pure” route for my first try!
One last note, I chose to use white pepper in this soup rather than black pepper for two reasons: 1) I like the flavor (it is a bit spicier I think) and 2) for aesthetic reasons (I like the look of this soup better without the black flecks).
Beer Cheese Soup with Andouille and Caramelized Onions
(Original Therapy Bread recipe)
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. cooked Andouille sausage links, cut into rounds or half rounds (your choice)
- 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 large sweet onion, finely diced
- Kosher salt
- White Pepper
- 6 tbsp. unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth or stock, at room temperature or slightly warm
- 1 12-ounce beer, preferably some sort of pale ale or other light colored beer, at room temperature or slightly warm
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- ½ tsp. dry mustard
- ½ tsp. dried thyme
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature (or heated briefly in the microwave to take the chill off)
- 1 cup milk, at room temperature (or heated briefly in the microwave to take the chill off)
- 7 ounces of Dubliner Cheese, Dubliner Cheese with Irish Stout or Gouda (not smoked unless you want that strong smoky flavor), shredded
- 3 ounces of Manchego cheese (or Pecorino Romano or Asiago), grated
- 4 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
- Toasted sourdough bread wedges to serve, optional
- Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat
- Add the sausage and cook until the nicely browned on the outside. Don’t rush this, you want a nice crust on each piece and flavorful bits in the bottom of the pan. This will take about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to flip the pieces
- Remove the sausage from the pan to a medium bowl for later. There should be about 1 tbsp. of fat left in the pan
- Add the butter and stir until melted
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly for about 1 minute or until fragrant
- Add the onion and cook until translucent and caramelized, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat to medium low if necessary.
- Add a generous pinch of salt and white pepper and stir
- Add the flour and stir into the vegetables, cooking for about 3 minutes to cook out the “raw flour” taste
- Whisk in the chicken broth and then the beer
- Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, thyme, cayenne, bay leaf and another pinch of salt and pepper
- Cook until thickened, about 10-15 minutes
- Remove the bay leaf and turn heat down to low
- Allow soup to STOP boiling. When you add the cream, milk and cheese in the next step you must be sure not to let it come to a boil during or after this incorporation or the soup will “break” and/or become grainy
- Stir in the cream and milk until fully combined
- Add the cheese, stirring until melted
- If you wish your soup to be completely smooth, blend with an immersion blender, or blend in batches in a counter-top blender
- Check for seasoning, adjusting as necessary with salt and pepper
- Stir in sausage pieces, or garnish individual bowls with sausage pieces
- Serve with grilled or toasted sourdough or in sourdough bowls, if desired
- When reheating, do so gently and again, do not allow boiling or it will become grainy!