When digging up the annual potato crop, we inevitably slice a few that then can’t be cured and stored. The same happens when planting garlic each fall: a few cloves lose their protective skin and end up in meals instead of the ground. Such castoffs become an excuse to make a warming potato chowder.
Any potatoes make delicious chowder, but certain varieties influence texture and taste. The creamy flesh and thin skins of red and yellow potatoes break down quickly. Thick-skinned baking potatoes hold their shape if you like a slightly chunky, rustic soup. For a cream-colored chowder, choose potatoes that are pale inside and out and a white Cheddar, use a light stock and watch that the onion softens without browning.
A few years ago, we started growing Terra Rosa potatoes, and they’ve become favorites for their sweet, colorful, creamy flesh. They’ve also been storing incredibly well throughout winter. But mostly they’re fun to use and eat because of their dark red skin and lighter red flesh. They give this chowder a rosy hue.
Fall usually brings a second crop of chives. This year, warm nights let the dill self-seed, putting up little fronds to pluck for garnish. Winter toppings can include crumbled blue cheese, and I often swap in grilled and frozen onions and roasted garlic.
Although I’m a fan of many local IPAs, that beer style is too hoppy and bitter for cooking. Choose a pale ale or milder beer for the best results. That single cup of beer in the recipe is intentional: the chef should enjoy the rest of the can or bottle while the chowder simmers.
Beer-Infused Potato Chowder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves fresh or 4 cloves roasted garlic, peeled and smashed
1-1/2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and diced (about 4 cups)
1 cup pale ale or milder beer
3 cups vegetable stock or water
2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced chives or scallions
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill fronds (optional)
In a stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about five minutes, until it softens. Add the garlic and potatoes and sauté for another minute, stirring continually. Pour in the beer and stock or water, bring to a simmer and then cook, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
Using an immersion blender or an upright blender in batches, puree the chowder to your desired consistency. Stir in the milk, cheese and smoked paprika. Return the soup to a low simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chowder stand, covered, for another 10 minutes to thicken. Taste, adding salt and pepper as needed, before ladling into bowls. Sprinkle each serving with chives and dill as desired.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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