Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spring Leek and Potato Soup or Vichyssoise

Creamy Leek and Potato Soup
I've had leeks on my  mind lately. I keep seeing them, looking fresh and palely green in stores and at markets but I've got a secret. I've NEVER cooked a leek! Why? I honestly don't know, except perhaps I can't remember my mother or my grandmothers or any of my aunts cooking them. Those wonderful ladies were my cooking mentors, companions and partners in happy hour crime. We cooked and laughed our way through many, many dishes, but leeks never appeared. Now that I've conquered them, I honestly don't know why.
Why was I afraid of a leek? 

I decided to start out with a Leek and Potato soup. First I researched my favorites-- a little Julia, a little Ina and a dash of Emeril. All of them have much to say on the subject of leeks -- Julia doesn't saute' them first in any fat, but simply boils the leeks and vegetables in water. Ina and Emeril both added different amounts of chicken stock and water. Emeril kicked his up with spices, but I wanted a more traditional flavor. However, they all agreed on one point -- YOU'VE GOT TO WASH THEM WELL!! This is REALLY important, as the leeks hold lots of sand and dirt between their layers. I decided to do it by removing the tough outer, dark green leaves, cutting off the top couple of inches (also tough and darker green) and then cutting off an inch at the root. I sliced them into rounds about 1/4" thick, like this:

Sliced Leeks
I put them into a big bowl filled with cold water, and let them soak for a few minutes, swishing my hand through the water. I drained them in the colander shown above, and then put them back into the big bowl with more clean cold water. I swished, I repeated the process. Finally, after several repeats, I didn't see any sand or grit in the on the bottom of the bowl. So, I drained them well and I weighed them. Why weigh them you ask? Well, that's what Julia Child said to do, so that is what I did. And after all, I've got this snazzy red food scale, so why not?
1 lb leeks and my handy food scale
Once I'd cleaned the leeks and weighed them, it was all uphill, and the kitchen began to smell like something good was on it's way. I have made potato soup many times over the years, but I must admit, this was hands down, the BEST POTATO SOUP I've ever made! Something about the leeks and the slow cooking worked absolute magic on the flavor. I cut WAY down on the amount of bacon, butter and cream used by the famous chefs, but I swear, it didn't matter! Here's the recipe and some pictures to urge you on toward your own leek adventure. I promise, I'll be cooking them again and soon. Perhaps a leek gratin or quiche or tart.....hhmmmmm.......

Creamy Leek and Potato Soup or Vichyssoise
1 lb. leeks, well washed and drained (about 3 large leeks)
1 lb peeled russet potatoes, cut into chunks for cooking
Frying Smithfield Original Bacon

3 rashers "Smithfield" original bacon
2 cloves minced garlic
2 T. butter
6 c. chicken stock
4 c, water
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. heavy cream + a little for garnish
chives for garnish
In a large, heavy soup pot, cook the bacon over low to medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain it well on a paper towel. Add the butter to the bacon fat in the pot and then the leeks. Cook them for 5 minutes until they begin to wilt and add the potatoes and garlic. Stir all the vegetables around in the pot until they are coated with the butter/fat mixture. 
Leeks and potatoes in the fat mixture
Add the stock, wine and water to your pot. Stir to combine and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down and add the salt and pepper. Partially cover the pot and let the soup cook over low heat for 1 hour and 15 minutes. By partially cover, I mean leave the top just off center so that the soup reduces and thickens, like this:
Partially covered soup pot

Watch it, you don't want it to boil over, just to gently bubble away. Lower heat worked fine on my gas stove. At the end of  1 hour, test your potatoes by sticking them with a knife to make sure they are tender. You may need to cook the soup another 15 or 20 minutes, depending on the size you cut the potatoes during the prep. When the potatoes are done and the soup is thickened, you'll need to puree your veggies. 
There are several ways to process the vegetables. I used my immersion blender, which is super easy to do. Let the soup cool a little before you start, put the immersion blender into the pot and begin blending in short bursts. You want the soup to be smooth and creamy.  You could also use a regular blender. Simply remove the potatoes and leeks (in batches) with a slotted spoon and puree them, then return them to the broth. You could run the vegetables through a food processor or a food mill. Whichever method you use, let the soup cool slightly before pureeing, to minimize the chance of getting splashed by boiling liquid or super hot vegetables. 
After the vegetables have been processed and returned to the soup, add the cream. Turn the heat on low to gently heat the cream and soup. Crumble the bacon and add it to the soup. Be careful not to let it boil. Taste the mixture and correct the seasoning -- you might need a little more salt or pepper, depending on the chicken stock you used. I always use lower sodium chicken stock and sometimes do need to add a little more salt at the end. Be careful, it's better to under-salt a dish than to over-salt one! This will make at least 6 bowls of soup. Garnish the soup with a tablespoon of cream and some chives. To make Vichyssoise-- that American invention we think is French -- simply cool the soup and serve it cold. We ate it one night for dinner, along with spinach salad. The rest made it's way to several delicious lunches and yes, one of the lunches I ate it cold. I knew I couldn't sell it to my husband, but I liked it just fine. 
Bon Appetit! 

1 comment:

Dick Jeffress said...

I didn't think I was going to like it, but was pleasantly surprised! It was actually delicious!