This winter soup has layers of flavor.
Make Ahead: The soup can be cooked, pureed and refrigerated a day in advance.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped (3 cups)
- 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped (2 cups)
- 2 medium (unpeeled) carrots, coarsely chopped (2 cups)
- Leaves from 3 sprigs sage
- 1 1/2 cups bourbon
- 4 to 5 large (about 3 1/2 pounds) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices (8 cups)
- 3 1/2 quarts homemade chicken stock, heated, plus more as needed (see related recipe in Recipe Finder)
- 1 large (unpeeled) orange, preferably Valencia, cut in half
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- Few tablespoons orange juice (may substitute maple syrup; optional)
- 1 cup pecan halves, for garnish
- 1/2 cup low-fat or regular sour cream, for garnish (do not use nonfat)
- 1 thick slice (about 1/3 pound) Virginia baked ham, for garnish
Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium to medium-high heat, then add the onion, celery, carrot and sage leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the onion is translucent and slightly caramelized and the vegetables have softened.
Add the bourbon, stirring to deglaze the pot. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until most of the alcohol has evaporated.
Add the potatoes, stirring to incorporate, then add the (hot) stock and orange halves. (If you used ham hocks to make the chicken stock, add them to this pot for extra flavor.) Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Season with the salt; mix well.
Turn off the heat and let the soup sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the orange halves and hamhocks, if using.
Place the pot near the blender along with a large, empty bowl. Use a ladle to transfer the soup in batches to the blender. Remove the center cap from the blender lid to allow steam to escape, and puree each batch for 2 minutes. Pour the pureed batches of soup into the empty bowl; use extra chicken stock as needed to thin the soup.
Add the cream and white pepper, stirring to mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning with orange juice, if desired. (At this point, the soup can be cooled to room temperature, covered and refrigerated for 1 day.)
When ready to serve, reheat the soup over medium heat until heated through. Thin the soup as needed with extra chicken stock.
Meanwhile, make the garnishes: Toast the pecans on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes, until they are fragrant. Transfer to a cutting board and coarsely chop. Cut the ham into small dice.
Divide the soup among individual wide, shallow bowls. Drizzle the sour cream onto the surface of the soup in a long zigzag pattern (using a squeeze bottle will make this easier), then fill in between the lines of sour cream with some of the ham and pecans. Serve hot.
From chef Ris Lacoste.
Tested by Ris Lacoste.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.