My first trip to Belgium was the wettest September on record, raining 12 of my first 14 days. I was traveling by bicycle and camping most nights. I will never forget the smell of the sodden countryside and the diesel exhaust that hung heavily in the damp air.
I still remember the dour, down-turned faces of women shopping at the weekly markets while I picked out my potatoes, leeks, and lardons. Doesn’t sound like much of a vacation, you’re thinking. True, not for anyone but the foolhardy. Then again, you probably didn’t resuscitate yourself from the chill by making potato and leek soup on your camp stove.
As the cooler fall days approach, what better way to warm up than with this savory and rich soup. It calls for gueuze, an un-fruited sour wheat beer from Belgium. Gueuze, loosely pronounced ‘ghuhz,’ is typically a blend of plain lambic beers of varying ages. A blend of 1-, 2-, and 3-year old lambics is fairly common. The beer is very lively in the bottle and has a pungent characteristic aroma comprising lactic acid, horse blanket, sulfur compounds, and tropical fruit.
Potato and Leek Soup with Gueuze
- 4 ea leeks, med to lg size
- 2 lb russet potatoes
- 1/4 cup lardons, lean salt pork, ham, salt-cured, not smoked
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, divided
- 1 1/2 cups gueuze (vintage lambic blend), 325-355 ml bottle
- 2 ea bay leaves
- 1 teasp sea salt
- 1/2 teasp ground white pepper
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 teasp chives, fresh
Prepare the leeks by trimming and discarding the roots and most of the green tops, rinsing to remove all grit, and chopping finely into 1/4″ pieces. Divide leeks evenly, reserving one half. Peel potatoes and dice into 1/2″ cubes; reserve under water in a large bowl to avoid browning.
In a 4 qt saucepan, heat 3 qts water to boiling. In a separate large soup pot of at least 6 qt capacity, melt 1/4 cup of butter and slowly heat the lardons to render their fat. Avoid overly darkening the lardons. Remove the lardons with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and reserve. Add half of the chopped leeks to the butter and cook on medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid browning. Deglaze with the bottle of gueuze. Drain the potatoes and add to the pot. Add the boiling water, bay leaf, salt and white pepper. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, until the potatoes are falling apart and the leeks are very tender.
While the soup is cooking, sauté the reserved leeks in the remaining butter until soft, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Back to the soup, remove and discard the bay leaves, then carefully purée the hot soup in a blender in batches until smooth. You may have to jockey pots to accomplish this, but you should end up with the puréed soup and the sautéed leeks in the same pot. Taste for seasoning and correct salt and pepper if needed. If the soup is too thin, reduce with constant stirring until consistency is that of a thick sauce. Stir in the cooked lardons, cream, and thyme. Heat soup through and serve immediately with chopped chives as a garnish.
I know I’ll be making this soup again soon. Hope you will try it, as well. Cheers. TPJ