There are certain dishes we should all be able to cook by heart and adapt to take advantage of the seasonal harvest, our preferences, and what is at hand in our pantries. Among those things are roast chicken, bread soup, bread salad, congee (rice porridge), omelets, and, today’s focus, potato soup.
There are others, of course, but you have to start somewhere. And as we approach the darkest and, possibly, coldest time of year, having a good command of bone-warming soups is a good idea.
A good soup can be more than what is typically served in a restaurant, a starter course or light lunch. Soups make a great breakfast, hearty lunch and easy dinner, especially on a cold dark weeknight, with some crusty bread.
You can use any potato to make soup, but when making potato soup instead of a soup that simply includes cubed potatoes among many other ingredients, it is best to use a waxy variety instead of a mealy variety (which make the best mashed potatoes).
Don’t overthink this aspect, though; if you use mealy potatoes — Burbank Russet is the best known — you’ll still have a good soup, though you may need to add more liquid to get the right consistency. If you’re not familiar with waxy varieties, just look for red potatoes.
You need no cream in potato soup and, indeed, cream diminishes the flavor of other ingredients. Liquid can be water or your choice of vegetable, chicken or duck stock, preferably homemade. And depending on what other ingredients you may or may not add, a bit of white wine can enhance your soup.
The recipe is flexible but the variations have been chosen carefully, for their compatibility with potatoes. You may notice that there are no variations with winter squash, eggplant, carrots, parsnips, or mushrooms. This is because I do not recommend them in this context.
Winter squash, eggplant, carrots, and parsnips provide a voluptuous texture all their own and don’t need a foundation of potatoes to make a great soup. And I have found that the best mushroom soups are just mushrooms, stock, aromatics and seasonings, and, sometimes, cheese.
Basic Potato Soup, with Variations
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2-3 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil
1 yellow onion, cut into small dice
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
— Kosher salt
2 pounds red (or other waxy variety) potatoes, scrubbed and sliced
2 cups stock (vegetable, chicken or duck)
— Black pepper in a mill
Pour the olive oil into a large soup pot set over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté gently until it is soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté 1 minute more, and season with salt.
Add the potatoes, stir, and sauté for 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and add the stock plus enough water to cover the potatoes by about 2 inches. Increase the heat to high, bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
The soup can be enjoyed as it is, with nothing more than a few turns of black pepper, or it can serve as a foundation for any of the variations below. You can leave it chunky if you prefer or you can purée it with an immersion blender.