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CHEDDAR CHEESE SOUP

The Best Recipe: Soups & Stews, Cook's Illustrated Magazine

Serves 4 TO  6


We like the little hits of cooked vegetables in this recipe. However, if you want a smooth soup, puree the base after the vegetables soften in step 2 and then pour it through a strainer; proceed as directed in step 3. This soup can he tricky to reheat and isn't the best candidate for making in advance. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days. Reheat the soup in a saucepan over low heat, whisking frequently to prevent the soup from separating and curdling. Do not heat the soup above a bare simmer.

• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 medium onion, minced
• 1 small shallot, minced
• 1 medium carrot, minced
• 1 small stalk celery, minced
• 1 medium clove garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 2 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
• 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
• 1 bay leaf
• Pinch cayenne pepper
• 3 tablespoons dry sherry
• 12 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
• Salt and ground black pepper


1. Heat the butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat until foaming.  Add the onion and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, and garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the flour and cook, stirring to coat the vegetables, until the mixture begins to brown on the bottom of the pot, about 2 minutes.

2. Gradually whisk in the chicken stock and half-and-half. Add the bay leaf and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the vegetables soften, about 3 minutes.

3. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the cayenne and sherry and allow to cool slightly, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the cheese and thyme until the cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.


VARIATIONS

SMOKED CHEDDAR CHEESE SOUP WITH BACON
Smoked cheddar cheese is an excellent complement to the bacon, but regular cheddar cheese mil work in this recipe.

Cut 4 bacon slices crosswise into 1/4-inch strips and fry in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Follow recipe for Cheddar Cheese Soup, substituting the bacon fat in the pot for the butter; substituting 6 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups), for an equal amount of sharp cheddar cheese; and reducing sherry to 2 tablespoons. Garnish each serving with bacon bits.

CHEDDAR AND ALE SOUP WITH POTATO
The type of ale used can make a huge difference in this variation. We found that inexpensive, light-colored ales worked well and were universally pleasing, while heartier ales made a darker, more potent-tasting soup.

Follow recipe for Cheddar Cheese Soup, adding 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 2/3 cup), along with carrot, celery, and garlic; substituting 1 1/2 cups ale for an equal amount of chicken stock; and reducing the sherry to 2 tablespoons.
 

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