Dark Irish stout and sharp cheese come together around bits of salty ham and soft boiled potatoes in this recipe for a chunky, satisfying soup.
I’ve had this post open for five days now. For five days the white space between the HTML of the images has haunted me and begged me to tell a story, to write an essay, to sum up an anecdote into a few short paragraphs. At the end of each of these five days there has been one consistent constant: I have failed.
Today is really no different. I feel compelled to write, and yet my fingers just hover above the keys, my mind flitting here and there. I suppose my thoughts are wrapped up in worry and fret, and my concentration has been carried away in the clutter.
For the first time since 6 a.m. this morning my house is quiet. Still.
My smallest son with the biggest heart sleeps in my bed, propped between our two pillows as he likes to do, my down comforter cocooning him within. My youngest daughter has retreated to her room, where a request to pick up her art supplies has forced her to spread them in a circle across the wooden floor; piles of crayons, colored pencils, markers, and oil pastels form a rainbow-colored atoll against the brown oak. She is sprawled out in the center on her stomach, lost to the extra-large sketchpad in front of her.
In the boys’ room a small engineer is constructing a fleet of spaceships, cobbled together from discarded pieces of old. Small clinking sounds can be heard if you listen closely through the door as parts for wings and cockpits are searched for in the rubble.
The largest of them, however, is directly behind me, prone on the couch and covered by a soft blue comforter that was pulled from the top bunk, down the hall, and out to the living room several hours ago. It is wrapped around her, concealing her odd choice of terry skirt over flannel pajama pants. Purple headphones rest over her ears, the music silenced long ago; her breathing has become rhythmic and heavy. It seems like the perfect opportunity to share this.
This is the second double-batch of this potato soup that has come from our kitchen. Really, I should call it ham soup, as it was the ham that caused its creation. After turning the ham into a proper ham dinner with mayonnaise, a couple casseroles, and a sandwich lunch, it was only appropriate that it then stretch itself into 20 or so bowls of steaming soup.
A strong cheese that melts easily is needed to compete with the ham, so choose wisely. Kerrygold Dubliner was my cheese of choice. Paired with the coffee notes of an Irish stout, the soup becomes the perfect base to hold the small bits of salted ham, chunks of celery, and soft boiled potatoes. (Note: The first iteration of this soup didn’t incorporate the stout, so feel free to leave that out in lieu of extra stock if you so desire.) This soup reheats quite well, making the leftovers perfect for packing in your lunch.
2-4 onions, ends and peels
2 stalks celery, ends and leafy bits
2 cloves garlic, skin on
other vegetable scraps (carrots, leeks, shallots)
In a large stock pot, place the ham bones and the vegetable scraps (approximately 2-4 cups of vegetable scrap). Cover the ham with water and place the pot on the stove over medium heat. Once the water begins to simmer around the edges, skim the surface to remove any foam or scum and turn the heat down and allow to simmer on low for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally and skimming the surface as necessary.
Strain the bone and vegetables from the stock and allow to cool. Skim any excess fat from the top once cool. Store stock in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze for up to three months.
Makes 3-4 quarts ham stock.
Random Notes: If you are me, you make the stock by chopping the vegetables first, storing in the refrigerator, and then tossing the onion ends and peels and celery discards in with the ham bone on a weekend day while you’re tooling around the house or running errands. The stock simmers, and then as the sun gets lower in the sky and nightfall is eminent, you start making your soup. Your stock is strained and starting to cool as you grab your already prepped vegetables and ham bits from the refrigerator and add them to the newly emptied pot and proceed to make dinner.
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 tablespoons flour
1 cup Irish stout
2 cups ham pieces
4 cups diced golden potatoes (peeled or unpeeled)
5 cups ham stock
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheese (like Dubliner)
Heat oil in a large stock pot. Add in the onion and celery and sauté until tender and then stir in the garlic. Add 3 tablespoons of the flour, stir, and cook for 2 minutes, until it starts to turn a golden brown. Slowly pour the stout in while stirring. Once the stout is incorporated the potatoes, ham, and stock can all be added. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until the potatoes are just tender. Reduce to a simmer.
In a separate pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the remaining flour and cook for 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk until incorporated. Add the cheese in small handfuls, stirring between additions until melted.
Once the cheese sauce is ready, spoon a ladle of hot stock into the cheese sauce and stir to thin. Repeat once more. Pour the thinned cheese sauce into the soup pot and stir to incorporate. Serve immediately.
Makes 10 bowls of soup.