Soup from the land of cheese
I guess you could call us Wisconsiphiles. Hubby Bryan and I are hooked on visiting the Badger State. We make several forays across the border every year. When the weather is warm, we head there in our Jeep Wrangler, sans top, to cruise the winding roads through wooded trees and valleys that are so different from our flat part of the world.
At other times of the year, however, the impetus for traveling one state to the east are largely culinary. Wisconsin is well known for its cheese, sausages and beer -- three things that are near and dear to our palates. There is one brand of beer that we particularly enjoy that can only be purchased within Wisconsin's borders. We always take along a large cooler to transport a selection of cheeses, and Bryan always throws in at least one variety of sausage, too.
We recently made a brief border crossing -- a short detour from our main Twin Cities destination -- just to replenish our Wisconsin foodstuffs. While there, we happened upon a recipe that had our mouths salivating. No surprise that it contains the three things for which we had ventured into the Land of Cheeseheads -- beer, cheese and sausage.
I have long had a version of beer-cheese soup in my culinary repertoire. It's made by simmering vegetables (onion, celery, carrots, potatoes) in a combo of beer and chicken stock, adding milk and cheese at the end. But it just didn't capture the richness of the soups that I'd sampled over the years in Wisconsin eateries.
This version hits the mark, and it becomes a meal in a bowl with the addition of sausage, cabbage and hearty croutons.
Within a couple days of our return home, Bryan and I were already concocting it in our kitchen. We chose to brown the sausage prior to adding it to the soup, rendering off some of the fat and caramelizing the flavor. Having been served a similar soup with rye bread croutons on top at one of our favorite Wisconsin restaurants, we added those into the mix
Notes from the kitchen:
* We prefer a sharp cheddar cheese. A medium cheddar would also work well in this soup. I would not use a packaged pre-grated cheese in this recipe, as it has a tendency to separate. A good quality hunk of cheddar, grated just before adding it to the soup, yields better results.
* The beer should be a lighter-colored variety with a somewhat neutral flavor, such as a basic pilsner.
* The milk/cream can be heated in the microwave. You don't need to bring it to a boil, just make sure it is steaming hot.
* Using packaged cabbage slaw is convenient, and the bits of carrot in some mixes add additional color to the soup. You could also thinly slice green or purple cabbage, or omit the cabbage entirely, but it does add a nice crunch and a bit of nutritional value.
* To make the rye croutons, cut several slices of rye or marbled rye bread into cubes. Toast in oven at 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes, turning once, until bread is dry.
Wisconsin Beer-Cheese-Sausage Soup
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup onion, diced
¼ cup flour
2½ cups chicken broth
½ cup beer
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cups milk or half-and-half
1 pound fully cooked smoked sausage, cut into ½-inch slices
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 cups cabbage slaw (or more, if desired)
In a large, heavy saucepan, melt butter. Add onion and cook over medium heat until translucent. Stir in flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add chicken broth, beer and Dijon mustard, whisking to incorporate. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, cook sausage in a small frying pan over medium-high heat until sausage is browned on the edges. Discard any fat in the pan.
Heat milk or cream; add to soup mixture. Stir in cheese, slaw and sausage and simmer over low heat until cheese is melted. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Top with rye croutons (see how-to at left) to serve. Makes 6 hearty servings.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.