Abbey ale potato leek soup is not your ordinary potato leek soup. As you may have surmised. If you love Belgian beer you will instantly recognize the merits of this recipe, on account of the pale abbey ale. In this case, skip to the recipe. If you don’t know much about Belgian abbey ales – read on. You might find yourself tempted to try the recipe and then pleasantly surprised once you do.
The blonde ale in this soup adds a very je ne sais quoi dimension of flavor. A certain something, hard to capture in words. Even though I am not a fan of using this French phrase in relation to my own cooking I cannot come up with a better or more precise description right now. Other than warming, but does that actually tell you that much?
I’ve been feeling so tremendously cold lately that even my thinking seems to be slowing down. Things are leaning towards a brain freeze and in result my linguistic abilities which have never been that great anyways seem to be diminishing. Not even the usually heart warming topic of cooking with beer seems to be of help.
All I have been cooking this week is soups and broths to use as the base for something later. And mulled ale, I couldn’t help it. And I’ve been moving at a sloth like speed. The weather should better warm up. Quickly.
Potato leek soup was one of my favorites growing up. My grandma made the best one with homemade chicken stock and she always gave me extra croutons. I loved going to her house, she was an admirable cook and the kindest woman I’ve ever been around. The most enticing smells wafted from her kitchen and in winter time, after playing in the snow outside there was nothing better than coming inside and warming up with a bowl of hot, creamy potato leek soup. She grew leeks in her garden and sometimes froze packets of them, cleaned and cut for later use, because she harvested that many leeks.
Not long ago I’d bought cleaned and cut leeks imported from Belgium at the frozen food section of Trader Joe’s. Mercifully I didn’t have to venture outside to go shopping yesterday and we happened to have Belgian pale abbey ale. This abbey ale potato leek soup just kind of happened. So satisfying.
I wish I could have served a bowl to my grandma. I bet she would have liked the added depth of flavor from the abbey ale. She was an expert in incorporating beer in recipes, everyone loved her cooking. Sadly I didn’t pay much attention to what exactly she did. I was too young and not interested in cooking at the time. Or beer.
The Leffe Blonde was the first abbey pale ale (and the first Belgian ale for that matter) I tasted in my life and the one that set me on the path of discovering even tastier Belgian beer treasures. I feel strongly connected to it. It is one of two beers I still buy even though today they are owned by big beer companies. Ay-ay-ay. I know. The other one is La Fin Du Monde.
The flavor of the Leffe Blonde is what uplifts this ale potato leek soup to the level of a true delicacy. It doesn’t give the soup a beer flavor, not at all. It opens up a dimension of flavor which may not have been accurately identified as of yet. Not exactly umami. More like magic. As I already stated, je ne sais quoi, hard to explain. I think that it has to do with the yeast used to ferment abbey pale ales. It produces esters which contribute an elusive spiciness and a subtle fruity bitterness like quince and bitter cherry. It also reminds me of fresh olives and olive oil. This probably doesn’t make sense, so get an abbey pale ale and try it for yourself. Better yet, make an abbey ale potato leek soup with some of it. And don’t skip the croutons, use extra virgin olive oil to make them and they will complement the soup flavors perfectly.
Leffe is the name of a monastery in Southern Belgium which since 1240 has been famous for the delicious, high alcohol beers brewed by its monks. Crafted with local ingredients and using time tested recipes. Throughout the centuries the abbey survived many calamities – from floods and fires to war assaults. The brewery was completely destroyed during the French revolution and was later rebuilt, a century and a half later, in 1952 with help from a Flemish brewery. The orignal beer styles were once again brewed there. That Flemish brewery was later acquired by Interbrew which lead to the sad situation of today’s ownership of the Leffe ales production by a beer giant. At least the abbey ales are still produced as they should and have nothing in common with the corn syrup loaded, tasteless liquids passed as beer otherwise sold by mass producers.
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Writing about all this has made me crave abbey ale potato leek soup. Even though Chris and I enjoyed very generous servings last night, there is at least a bowlful left that I can warm up. I should. It is freezing outside.
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- 6 medium potatoes (or 4-5 large)
- 3-4 leeks (about 1 lb of cleaned and sliced leeks)
- ¼ cup butter (1/2 stick)
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 1 cup abbey blonde ale
- 4-5 fresh thyme sprigs
- 2½ - 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
- ½ cup cream
- For Croutons: 2 slices of bread cut in small cubes, 1 tbsp olive oil + salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.
- Peel and cut potatoes in eighths (cut in half, then each half in half and then again). Place in a large pot, cover with cold water and add 1 tsp salt. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium low and let boil until fork tender and then remove from heat and drain the water.
- Meanwhile clean and slice leeks (remove about 1 inch from the bottom and the dark green parts, cut in half lengthwise and wash away any trapped soil particles, then slice in half moons).
- In a large pan over medium heat melt the butter. Add the cut leeks, season with the salt and pepper and add three whole sprigs of fresh thyme. Cook until the leeks are translucent and begin to caramelize, stirring often.
- Slowly add the abbey ale and stir, let simmer and reduce for 8-10 min. Remove from heat.
- Add the cooked leeks with abbey ale sauce to the potatoes. Discard the thyme at this point. Add the chicken (or vegetable) stock and using a handheld (immersion) blender puree until you reach a smooth consistency. If using a traditional blender, work in batches.
- Place the pot with the pureed potatoes and leeks on the stove over medium high heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cream, stir well, cover with lid and turn off the heat.
- To make the croutons slice bread in cubes and heat olive oil in a pan over medium high. Add the bread cubes, season with salt, pepper and garlic powder and stir well to coat. Once they begin to char slightly they are done. Transfer to a serving dish to be used as garnish.
- Serve soup with a few croutons and a little bit of fresh thyme on top.