Friday, 1 October 2010

Beer Cheese Soup

If there is anything I have learnt while spending four years studying at an university in the UK, it is that there are two items that are vital to the kitchen of any student, and they are cheese and beer. Cheese can be bought cheaply, lasts long, and is filling. Beer largely has the same attributes, is an integral part of British culture, and also has the added advantage of providing some form of relaxation or distraction from the more annoying aspects of student life, notably, studying.

So I find it surprising that up till now, nobody I know has tried to incorporate the two together in food. A recent discovery while reading through the Everything Meals on a Budget Cookbook turned up an interesting idea: Beer Cheese Soup. Further searches on Google revealed that this is actually quite popular in Wisconsin, the biggest producer of cheddar cheese in the United States. There is also a Youtube video which shows food journalist Anthony Bourdain sampling the fare at a local restaurant and discussing the dish.

Unlike the premium ingredients used in the video however, we are going to use humbler and more affordable ingredients. Previous posts on this blog have already introduced the Sainsbury's Basics full-flavour cheddar cheese and middle bacon, so today's new ingredient is, for better or worse, Sainsbury's Basics Lager. Surprisingly, I do not know any student who actually has had to resort to drinking this. I suppose it is a matter of priorities; students would prefer to scrimp on their food budgets so that they can afford better quality beer. A taste test by my flatmate and I quickly revealed why, and it seems that a BeerAdvocate user agrees with our observations, the beer striking us most as coloured water.

The recipe on which I based my post on can be found here. I have deviated a bit from it, mostly to conserve on the amount of fat used and to compensate for the lack of ingredients in my kitchen. Start by frying the bacon until crisp, and then using the drippings from the bacon to fry some chopped celery and carrot. If you become uncomfortable about the amount of fat that is coming from the bacon, feel free to remove them from the wok and use the oven to take care of the rest of the cooking.

Add flour to the vegetables to make a roux. Pour in half of the beer from the can, and add a chicken stock cube.

Add some milk, and slowly stir in the cheese until the soup is thick and smooth. Add the beer and stir for a while. Serve with bacon for garnish.

Anthony Bourdain was told that Beer Cheese Soup found its way into Wisconsin cuisine since it provided nourishment to the people coping with the cold harsh winters common to the region, and I could not agree more. This would provide some comfort at meal times as the weather in the UK starts to take a turn for the worse. As it is, the soup is cheap to procure, but if you want to further reduce costs, you can substitute the middle bacon with Sainsbury's Basics Cooking Bacon and the cheddar with the Basics Grated Mild Hard Cheese, both of which have a significantly lower cost per unit quantity than the ingredients they replace.

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