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Spring Chowder

Matching Potatoes, Leeks with a Saison – or a Pale Ale
Almanac Beer Co. Honey Saison

Farm Leek ChowderIn some parts of North America, spring is known as “Mud Season,” thanks to the soggy conditions created from the thaw of winter and the rains that green up the land. In Texas, where I grew up, my dad Anthony made potato soup on days when spring downpours drenched us and sullied our moods. His soup was hearty, like a chowder – creamy, buttery, and chunky. It filled the belly and warmed the soul. To this day, he makes it whenever my mom isn’t feeling well. She says it always cures what ails her.

Usually, because my mother prefers it this way, he makes the soup in its simple form with just potatoes. He prefers using baby red potatoes, skins and all, but peeled russets work just as well. Other times, inspired by the vegetables he sees in the market, he adds carrots or peas to the mix. In keeping with his tradition of making this soup to fit the season, I have added leeks as a way of bringing more of spring’s bounty into the bowl. 

Almost any style of beer will pair with this soup. When winter insists on sticking around for a while, a nut brown ale or a chocolate stout would be a hearty sidekick to this soup. When I did a tasting at my home in Phoenix, though, I chose a couple of lighter varieties that better suit the warmer temperatures here: the Honey Saison from San Francisco’s Almanac Beer Company and the Double Dog Double Pale Ale from Flying Dog in Frederick, Maryland.

Almanac is making a name for itself up and down the coast of California with its Farm to Table brews. Each beer is tied to the roots of Northern California and its natural abundance. The Honey Saison, with local honey and ginger root, is a nice contrast to the soup. The subtle sweetness of the beer is showcased by the creaminess of the soup. 

On its own, this ale drinks like a white wine. It’s light and crisp and has a low ABV of 4.8 percent. Slightly sweetened by the honey, it’s spiced by the ginger and firmly grounded in earthy oak and Mount Hood and Saaz hops. 

Flying Dog’s Double Dog Double Pale Ale is equally drinkable, although it has more body than the Honey Saison. It was originally released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this long-standing craft brewer. In 2009, the ale became a permanent fixture in the lineup. This malty hophead has a subtle sweetness that complements the sweetness of the leeks and onion in the soup. With just enough hops to balance the malt, the beer still permits the soup to be grounded in its rich, earthy cream.

Without a big pale ale like this, the flavor of the leeks and onion is more refined. (So one might consider more spoonfuls and fewer sips to freshen the palate.) 

The Double Dog has a yellow-tinged froth and pours deep amber in color. It is well balanced, not over the top sweet and not bitter from the citrusy hops. The beer has a higher ABV of 11.5 percent, so it can be a bit boozy. But after eating more of Anthony’s Famous Potato Leek Chowder, that little smack of alcohol burns off quickly.

Anthony’s Famous Potato Leek Chowder

Ingredients

  • 4-6 cups of vegetable broth
  • 4 peeled potatoes roughly cut into bite-size pieces
  • 4 leeks, cleaned thoroughly and chopped using the white and light green parts
  • ½ an onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • ½ a stick of butter, melted
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup milk or heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
  • ½ cup grated smoked cheese, such as gouda, cheddar, or gruyere for garnish

Preparations
Add the vegetable broth, potatoes, leeks, onion, and celery to a Dutch oven or heavy pot. Make sure the vegetables are completely covered by the broth. If not, add more broth. Bring to a boil then turn down the heat to medium. Cook for about 15 minutes.

Whisk the melted butter and flour together to make a paste, then whisk it into to the soup. Add the salt and pepper. 

Turn the heat to low and allow to simmer for about 5 more minutes or until potatoes are starting to soften.

Just before the potatoes are soft, add the milk. Keep the heat on low and let it simmer until the potatoes start to fall apart when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup to desired consistency. Serve garnished with a tablespoon of cheese per serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Recommended Pairings
Saison, American-Style Pale Ale