Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Vichyssoise: French Potato Leek Soup

Bowl of Soup with Chive Garnish
Yukon Gold Potatoes = Mellow Yellow Color

Recipe by Robin

Neither my Santa Cruz style potato leek soup nor Sylvia Folkart’s no-milk potato leek soup seemed appropriate for a Bastille Day potluck last week. Both recipes minimize two ingredients that French chefs love: butter and cream! Also, my earlier recipes were for hot potato leek soup, whereas vichyssoise is always served chilled. And of course, since classic vichyssoise is very smooth, my usual unpeeled potatoes ne sont pas acceptables. A Facebook friend quipped, “I can’t even pronounce vichyssoise, much less make it!” Say “vee shee SWAZ” (hear pronunciation). The final s is pronounced, and accent is on last syllable.

Leeks, Potatoes, Thyme, and Bay Leaves
The Main Veggie Ingredients
Historians debate whether vichyssoise is really French or is an American invention. In a sense, it’s both. Louis Diat, chef at the NYC Ritz Carleton in the early 1900s, reinvented and popularized vichyssoise, using memories of his childhood. To cool the potato leek soup his mother and grandmother made, he and his brother used to pour in cold milk. Diat dreamed of those days and how delicious the combination tasted. It seems to me that the recipe is indeed French, created in France by young Diat and his brother, and later refined by the chef in America. But I’m not much of a purist.

The idea of this soup is that it be simple, not overly flavored. Essentially, we're recreating nursery food. Often vichyssoise recipes use no spicing except the leeks and a chive garnish. I’ve added a bit of French thyme, bay leaf, and a tiny amount of garlic, and finished it with a pinch of nutmeg. Add whichever of these that you like (or none!) but keep the quantities minimal. You might want to cut this recipe in half if you’re not going to a potluck.

And speaking of things both French and American…in the immortal words of  The French Chef Julia Child: Bon appetit!

Large Serving Bowl of Soup with Garnish
Enough for Large Potluck
makes about 9 cups

2 ½ lbs. Yukon gold potatoes
3 large leeks
1 - 2 small yellow onions
1 small clove garlic
2 tbsp. butter
5 cups chicken broth (or rich veggie)
1 - 2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 small bay leaves
2 cups half and half (can be fat-free)
pinch or two of nutmeg
salt and pepper
2 – 3 tbsp. minced chives

Scrub, peel, and dice potatoes into ~1 inch chunks. You should have about 5 cups potatoes.

Wash and thinly slice the leeks. Traditionally, only the white part is used, but I also used a tiny amount of the light green. Slice enough yellow onion to make a total of 5 cups of leeks and onions.

Smash the garlic clove with the side of a large knife.

Melt butter on medium low heat in deep soup pot. Add leeks, onion, and garlic. Let these “sweat” by cooking over low heat, stirring frequently, until juices are released and vegetables get soft. Take care not to brown leeks, even slightly. This will take about 10 minutes.

Add diced potatoes, thyme leaves (removed from “sprigs), bay leaves, and broth. Broth should just barely cover potatoes. Add more if needed. Bring to boil and reduce heat to just above medium. Simmer till potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Use an immersion blender to puree soup in the pot till smooth. Stir and cool slightly. Stir in half and half.

Pour and scrape (it’s best to have an assistant) into a large bowl, preferably stainless steel, to cool. When cool enough to taste, add a pinch or two of nutmeg (to taste) and salt and pepper to taste, but don’t overdo it.

Chill soup in refrigerator for at least two hours, longer if possible, until completely cold. Serve garnished with chopped chives.

Hand Pouring Cup of Half and Half into Pureed Soup
Definitely Dairy

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