Speaking with my stomach: A creamy potato soup to usher in Autumn
Hey team, this is Chris for Speaking with My Stomach. Thanks for stopping by this week. Please read to the end of the story because we have a pretty special announcement at the end of this article.
So it’s been pretty hot for the first week of September, but I know fall is right around the corner. That means that we’re getting into one of my favorite cooking seasons.
We’re going to be doing a lot of soups, chili, stews, and bigger oven projects that we haven’t really been wanting to do this summer.
Given the temperatures after this week, we’re going to be making a creamy potato and ham soup with carrots, onions and a whole bunch of really nice spices in it. So that’ll be really good for these colder months.
Recipe and Ingredient Preference
I personally have this problem where I don’t know how to cook for small amounts or just for one or two people. I’m only really good at feeding like six to 10 people. So today we’re going to be feeding a whole lot of people with some really good hearty soup.
We’re gonna want to start off with the basics. Let’s just get the ingredients out of the way right now and then we’ll incorporate those later on as we actually go into the method.
• 2 to 2.5 pounds ham
• 12 ounces salt pork
• 2.5 pounds of potato
• One cup carrots
• One white onion
• 3 to 4 cloves garlic
• 1 Anaheim pepper
• 3 cups vegetable stock
• 1 cup water
• 1 pint heavy whipping cream
• 1.5 teaspoons ground black pepper corn
• 1.5 teaspoons salt
• 1 teaspoon garlic salt
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon onion powder
• 0.5 teaspoons rosemary
• 1 teaspoon basil
• 1.5 teaspoon parsley
• 0.5 teaspoon thyme
• 0.5 teaspoon white pepper
• 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
Lets get out about two to two and a half pounds of ham.
For my choice of carrot, I’m going to use baby carrots because a lot of the work is already done; they’re small and peeled, easy enough to chop or dice. We want one white or yellow onion, but I prefer white because yellow is kind of too sweet for this. Black pepper in general is fine, I just like fresh ground peppercorn. You can get it from McCormick with a grinder built into the lid.
As for my choice of fresh pepper, I like to use Anaheim peppers, because they’re not super hot but they’ve got some really nice flavor. You can definitely tell that it’s a pepper but it’s not going to make your dish excessively spicy. We’re going for a creamy soup, not a white chili.
Now that we’ve covered the ingredients and why those are the picks, let’s talk about preparation and getting the soup started.
Let’s start off with the ham. I used a full bone in ham shank. I cut that down to pieces and I saved the bone. I put it into a Ziploc bag and I froze it because later this season, I’m gonna want to use that for another soup. Bone is super good for coming up with a really strong base or broth.
For the ham we don’t want to finely dice it, but we want pretty decent chunks. Nothing that we’re going to have to break down with a fork or knife in the bowl, but we definitely want to keep it larger for texture.
Leave on some of the fat. The fat is going to render and break down into the soup. It also has a pretty nice mouthfeel; a little bit of chew followed by a luxurious fall apart in your mouth feel.
For the potatoes, we’re going to leave the skin on. I like the taste, the mouthfeel is kind of okay, and it gives you a really nice crosscheck to the rest of the creamy and chewiness of the soup. There’s also a lot of nutrients in the skin that I don’t want to leave out.
We’re going to cube those up, maybe in 16ths or 24ths. I’m using some pretty standard Idaho potatoes. Like I said earlier, we’re going to want two and a half pounds of those.
We also want that one cup of carrots chopped up pretty finely, into little tiny pieces. We don’t want huge circles of it. It’s going to be really attractive in the soup. It’s going to help give off some yellow coloring to it and those orange specks really look nice. Carrots are also just a really good, hearty fall vegetable. This way they really keep a lot of the look and they don’t break down into the soup.
When we’re dealing with the onion, we want smaller pieces, anywhere from minced to the size of your pinky fingernail. For the garlic, we can mince that with some fine knife skills or just use a garlic press. I won’t be picky or judge.
The first thing to hit the stock pot is going to be 12 ounces of salt pork. We’re gonna chop that into some pretty fine pieces, roughly the size of the ham chunks if not a little bit smaller. That is going to be the base of our pot. Cook it down. We want it crispy. We want a whole lot of the fat to render and form a nice layer on the bottom.
Now we can use a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs to pick out the bacon pieces. We’re going to want to save those for later. Those are going to go back into the soup when we’re ready to add the rest of the ingredients. So keep those out. Leave all of the fat drippings into the bottom of the soup pot. Those are going to be a very powerful flavor.
Next up, we’re going to want to add in our three cups of veggie stock and our potatoes with one cup of water. We’re going to boil the potatoes down. We want them to be really soft and you will be able to test when your potatoes are ready because you will be able to pretty easily stab it with a fork without too much pressure. We don’t want it too soft. We don’t want them to completely fall apart or turn it into mashed potatoes. We want them to hold a little bit of a form but we don’t want them to be really tough or chewy when we actually eat our soup.
Once our potatoes are ready, we can go ahead and fold the salt pork pieces back in with ham, our finely diced white onion, our three to four cloves of garlic, carrots, our spices, and the pint of heavy cream, and one to two tablespoons of butter. Keep it on a medium heat. Let that boil for a little bit but not too long. The butter is going to be very important for not only flavor, but for helping to thicken the soup along with the heavy cream because, we’re not using cornstarch or a cream base, so we’re doing that ourselves.
Once it hits boiling, we’re going to turn it down between medium and low and let it simmer for a bit, about 10 to 15 minutes, allowing it to thicken.
We’re going to use a spoon test for this. Whether it’s a plastic serving spoon or a wooden spoon, stir the soup for a bit. You’re going to be able to feel it being firm or a little thick because of the structure, the potatoes, the fats, the butters that we have and the heavy cream will start to really thicken up the soup. We don’t want it to fully stick to the spoon or take too long for the creamy base to drip off. We don’t want to overcook the potatoes or burn any of the ingredients that we have in this, so stir regularly to stop sticking and to test thickness. Then we can take it off heat. Let it sit for 10 or 15 more minutes because it’ll finish cooking and once it starts to cool just a little bit, it’ll really start to finish solidifying and it’ll hit that final texture that we want.
The flavor profile on this is going to be a little bit salty because we put a bit of salt into it, along with the ham and salt pork. It’s also going to be kind of sweet and definitely creamy because of the heavy cream. The Anaheim pepper, the garlic salt and powder, the onion powders and our herbs are going to keep it from being too sweet or from being too hot from the peppers while making it an earthy and aromatic dish.
It’s going to be a really nice, sweet, almost earthy, really rich, creamy soup that I think you will really like. I really enjoyed it. I’m really hoping that it’ll become a fall and winter favorite for all.
A Brief history
of the potato
And now that we’re done talking about today’s recipe, let’s talk about one of the stars of the dish, potatoes.
There’s a lot of historical misconceptions and fun facts that I don’t think a lot of people know or are aware of.
Our source for this is Charles C. Mann’s 2011 piece “How the Potato Saved the World,” published in Smithsonian Magazine.
Potatoes are a New World food, meaning they’re indigenous to the America’s, Peru to be specific, and we’re introduced to the wider world through the Columbian Exchange (the introduction of goods and resources from Europe to the Americas, and from the Americas to Europe).
Potatoes were first “discovered” by Conquistadors in the 1570s. Once brought to Europe and widely grown, potatoes were thought to be the cure to famine, but this would be shot down by the Great Potato Famine of the mid 1800s in Ireland.
Potatoes in the U.S. met the Colorado Potato Beetle, which stopped it from being America’s wonder crop.
Hoping to put potatoes above the beetle, American farmers started using arsenic, of all things, as a pesticide. The race for stronger and stronger arsenic launched the race of industrial pesticides as we know it.
The Idaho potatoes we used in the soup have come a long way from the original potatoes of the Andes Mountains. For example, original potato breeds were highly toxic, and have been bred to be edible by humans. Some of the deadly varieties can still be found in the Andes foothills.
Andes natives also learned that cultivating potatoes at different altitudes and in different soil compositions greatly affected the size and flavor profiles of the spuds. Modern Peruvians will tell you that Idaho potatoes are about as bland as potatoes can be. The International Potato Center in Peru has preserved around 5,000 species of potatoes.
For 200 years, potatoes were seen as a tasteless food meant for peasants, as they were cheap, prosperous, and nutritional. A perfect combo for the hard working and poor laborer. Potatoes would become quite popular in France in 1775 when wheat prices reach a record high, making potatoes more sought after than beloved French breads. France was renowned for terrible famines between 1500 and 1800. 40 famines, to be exact.
Britain had its fair share of famines as well, and the potato was just as successful as filling their bellies as it had been with France. The potato had become the poster child of staving off European starvation.
After so much success, storm clouds loomed over the potato in the form of a water mold produced blight that originated in Peruvian guano, a bird waste byproduct that was a popular fertilizer. The blight spread to Europe via the previously mentioned Columbian Exchange in 1845, first spotted in Flanders, near France. Carried by air, water, and commerce, the blight only took weeks to spread across Europe.
In September of 1845, the famed Irish Potato Famine began. It was estimated that 2.1 million acres of Irish land was tied in potato cultivation. The famine lasted until 1852 and was responsible for an estimated death toll of over one million lives, arguably the deadliest famine in human history.
To put it in terms of U.S. population today, it would be the equivalent of 40 million American deaths in seven years. By 1855, two million Irish would flee the blight, two-thirds of which came to the U.S. To this day, the Irish population has not surpassed its numbers of pre-famine.
Farewell for Now
If you’ve made it to the end, I would like to say thanks for stopping by and sharing a meal as well as a chat with me. I hope the soup treats you well, and I wish you happy harvests as we turn our faces to autumn.
As for the announcement I mentioned at the beginning, the Speaking with Our Stomach team is beyond proud to announce that you can now follow us on Facebook and Instagram, as well as visiting us at speakingwithmystomach.com for latest updates, experiences, recipes and stories like the one you just read above. Farewell, and until next time, don’t forget to tip.