Years ago I was visiting the small German village of Witten. Sitting in a small neighborhood restaurant I asked the waiter for a suggestion, and was rewarded soon thereafter with a bowl of creamy, silky soup. The ambrosial liquid was at once mildly sweet and peppery, and oh-so savory. A couple bowls later I was able to wrest the secret from the waiter. It was Riesling that made this so darn tasty!
Booze in soup? My world view was changed forever.
From that moment on, I’ve been a devout supporter of adding alcohol to soup. It adds layers of complexity to recipes, and soups in particular because of their high liquid content. Here are five soups that pack a little something extra under the hood.
French Onion Soup (pictured above)
Any self-respecting soup list has to include the classic soupe à l'oignon. While the idea of onion soup has been around since Roman antiquity, it’s the 18th century Parisian recipe that everyone raves about. Deep, richly-flavored broth, slowly-caramelized onions, gobs of broiled cheese...what’s not to love?
Many recipes also incorporate wine into the broth, a lovely touch. For me, what really puts this soup over the top is the dash of brandy added at the end (or two, I’m not judging). It adds a whole new layer of complexity to the flavor. You know who else loved brandy in the soup? Julia Child, of course!
Her French onion soup recipe is still one of the best. It takes a little extra time to make, but is absolutely worth the effort.
Cheddar Beer Soup
Here’s another historically prevalent soup. Cooks have been adding beer to cheese, milk and flour since the medieval period in Europe. Traditional recipes usually incorporated whatever cheese and beer was found in the geographic area. Bavarian recipes used kellerbier or dunkelweizen. Czech recipes called for pilsner.
This Cheddar Beer Soup recipe is typically found in England, and so calls for cheddar and a classic British ale like Bass ale. (Fun fact - the familiar red triangle logo is one of the oldest registered trademarks in the world, dating back to 1875.)
The secret weapons in this recipe are the dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce. And do try to use a really good cheddar. While the flavor of the soup will be fine with a generic block of supermarket cheese, special things happen when you grate in some Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hills Farm.
Of course, you could go the full monty and use a traditional English cheddar. You’ll find some awesome options at Wasik’s Cheese Shop and Formaggio Kitchen. Enjoy this with a pint of bitters and perhaps your finest pince-nez. Cheerio!
Drunken Chicken Soup
Whilst cruising the internet looking for good things to eat I came across the food blog What To Cook Today, and more specifically, this recipe for Drunken Chicken Soup. The author, a woman named Marvellina, hails from Indonesia and so this recipe has a decidedly Asian flair to it, which I LOVE. Sesame oil and ginger add gloriously harmonious notes to the wine base.
This recipe calls for Shaoxing wine, a Chinese rice wine used for cooking and drinking. It’s pretty easily found in most Asian markets. However, one time I was out of this wine and used dry Sherry instead with great success. I will point out that Marvellina suggests replacing the water in the recipe with more wine if you like, so...bonus points for that.
This is the recipe that started it all for me. I still shiver when I reminisce about how perfect this soup was.
Riesling is often overlooked in cooking because people too quickly dismiss it as a sweet wine. In reality dry Riesling isn’t all that sweet, just really full-bodied and round on the palate. Fruit tones of peach and apricot augment cream sauces and dishes featuring white meat like chicken or turkey. Riesling can be a rock star ingredient when used judiciously, and this soup certainly qualifies.
This Riesling soup recipe also features star-shaped croutons fried in butter and dusted with cinnamon and ginger. Chill up another bottle of dry Riesling to drink alongside this brilliant first course.
Spiked Pumpkin Soup
The hard apple cider and bourbon in this creamy soup will reward you for the effort. The maple syrup pushes this soup just onto the sweeter side, but it’s a beautiful counterpoint to the woodsy, vanilla-y flavors in the bourbon.
This Spiked Pumpkin Soup recipe calls for a can of pureed pumpkin, but I’ve always just roasted up some sugar pumpkin and pureed it myself. I really love the sweet and bright flavor from a fresh pumpkin. The cumin and ginger bring spice and liveliness to the finished product.
I’ve always enjoyed this will a pint or two of dry cider (my current obsession is Stormalong Cider from Sherborn for both soup and sipping.)
I hope these recipes inspire you to share some of your next bottle with your soup. You won’t be disappointed!