loaded baked potato soup

When my sister and I were in high school, a trip to the mall almost always meant Tysons Corner. And if we timed it right, a trip to Tysons almost always meant lunch at Slade’s American Grill, known to us as Slade’s. I’m very proud to now be able to call up the name of the long closed restaurant, since it took simultaneous gchatting with Joie, texting with Laura, and some deep googling to find it. With our powers combined we got there: Joie knew it was a short name, Laura remembered America being in there somewhere, and I was pretty sure it started with an S. Considering how often Joie and our mother and I ate there over the years, I’m amazed that we forgot the name at all. What has absolutely stayed with me, though, is their insanely good loaded baked potato soup.

Slade’s baked potato soup was rich and creamy, topped with grated cheddar and crumbled bacon with a wonderfully heavy hand, and remains the standard by which I judge all other potato soups. Nothing quite lived up to it until this winter, when I finally tried a recipe I had saved all of four years ago, from Smitten Kitchen. Holy potatoes is this soup delicious, and just exactly right.

The last time I made this soup, just this past week, I got some frustrating news right at the end of the work day. The kind of news that makes collapsing on the couch and ordering Thai food seem way more appealing than braving the grocery store and spending an hour on dinner. But I reminded myself of how much better I tend to feel when I make dinner, and how happy I would be to have leftovers for lunch the next day, and I forged ahead. Such the right call. This tasty soup is just about the most comforting meal I can imagine. And though it’s not the quickest recipe on the block, all that leek and potato chopping, not to mention plenty of simmering downtime, can be wonderfully centering.

One of the spiffiest things about this recipe is how creamy it tastes with how little cream: you’d swear there was heavy cream for days, and instead it’s just a humble 1/3 of a cup of sour cream, added to a long simmering mix of leeks, garlic, starchy potatoes and stock.  You hit the mixture with your trusty immersion blender, and choose your own adventure with the consistency. I like a pretty smooth potato soup, myself, but leave my potatoes unpeeled to add a little extra something to the texture.

I follow the original Smitten Kitchen recipe almost exactly, with just a few little notes: she recommends either vegetable or chicken stock, and I always go for chicken. I rarely have the low-sodium stock that almost every recipe recommends, so I wait to add any additional salt until the very end, and then add more to taste. The original recipe also calls for 5 to 6 cups of stock, depending on how thick or thing you want it. I tend to just pour all 6 cups in, and have been uniformly happy with the results. And finally, the original recipe contains a section in the ingredients list for “optional toppings.” As far as I’m concerned, shredded cheddar, crumbled up bacon, and minced chives or scallions are 100% mandatory. Especially to reach Slade’s-like heights.

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