Classic Potato-Leek Soup

In Recipies on April 5, 2011 at 9:27 am

It seems to me, leeks should be a lot more popular with home chefs than they are.  They have a delicate flavor that hints of onion, garlic, and cabbage.  They are also an excellent source of dietary fiber.  Leeks keep for a long time, until they are cut to be cleaned (below). So, you can buy them several days to a week in advance and still have fresh leeks to work with.


When I go to my local mass-marketed food store, when the local farmer’s market is closed for the season, I never see more than about a dozen leeks on display.  Compare that to the vast numbers of onions, tomatoes, and heads of cauliflower.


What is the problem with leeks?


People think they are hard to clean.


Leeks accumulate a lot of mud and grit and some of it gets pretty deep into the plant’s structure.  You stick a leek “head down” in a bucket of water, change the water daily, and still get a pile of dirt out of the leek.


There is a way to thoroughly clean a leek in minutes:


Pull off, or trim, the obviously dead and damaged leaves from the leek.  Lay the leek on a cutting board.  Using a sharp knife, starting from about one-half of an inch from the leek’s root, cut the leek in half…leaving the entire root end intact. Now, rotate the leek ninety degrees and make another identical cut.  If you kept your cuts in the center of the leek, you should have something that now resembles a cheerleader’s pom-pom.  Now lay the leek in enough water to cover it.  After a few minutes, while you are preparing something else, go back and rinse the leek thoroughly under running water while shaking it like a pom-pom.  You can separate the leaves a bit to be sure you get all of the mud out.


Our potato-leek soup presented today is a classic, but leeks are also delicious in scrambled eggs with a can of kipper snacks tossed in.


Now…onto the soup.


I have always used a dry, white table wine (or cognac) in my potato-leek soup.  I add it just before the leeks are finished sautéing.  I was comparing my recipe to several others, when I noticed one recipe used dry, white vermouth instead of wine or brandy.


It took a bit of rummaging to find my vermouth.  I keep mine in an olive-oil sprayer where it resides until a houseguest wants a “really, really dry martini”.  A spritz of vermouth is all it takes.


I found my vermouth and into the pot it went.  The aroma was amazing as it evaporated among the leeks, onion, and garlic in the pot.


Do not forget the lemon juice splash at the end of cooking.  I have seen people serially empty saltshakers into bowls of potato soup in a vain hope of achieving some level of seasoning.  Remember how lemon juice brightens flavors without all that sodium?


Some people use heavy whipping cream, in a smaller amount, instead of cups of whole milk.  I have not compared the fat content, but whipping cream and a half of a stick of butter does not seem to be “lite”.  If you are a fearless purist, omit the milk and substitute 8 oz of heavy cream in 2 ½ cups of water.  If whole milk terrifies your waistline, substitute 1% or 2%…but be aware you are trading off some richness.


I use real butter for my soup.  Margarine is a close second.  I do not recommend my usual alternative, olive oil.  The olive oil does not emulsify into the soup like butter or margarine.  It ends up floating on the surface!  Yuck.


One more hint.  I often “cheat” and thicken soups with instant mashed potatoes.  Purists will remove some of the potatoes from this soup and mash them well (sometimes adding a tablespoon or two of flour in a half cup of milk to the mash).  If you use a good brand of instant potatoes, the result is much better than merely “acceptable”.  Your choice.


Let’s get the soup going.


Classic Potato-Leek Soup


1 medium, white onion – finely chopped

2 TBS garlic, minced (5-8 cloves)

1 large leek, cleaned and roughly chopped

½ stick butter (or ½ C margarine)

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

½ C dry, white vermouth

4 C water

3 C whole milk

2 bay leaves

2C instant mashed potatoes (optional)

2 ½ tsp bouquet garni

1 tsp kosher salt

splash of lemon juice

freshly ground black pepper


Heat a large, heavy pot over medium heat.  Melt the butter or margarine and add the onion and leek.  Cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. When the onion is translucent, stir in the garlic.  Do not allow the garlic to brown and become bitter, so stir constantly while cooking an additional 2 minutes.  Add the vermouth and allow it to almost fully cook off.  Toss in the potatoes, water, bouquet garni, salt, and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cover.  Cook for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow the soup to cool a bit before adding the milk or it may curdle.


When the soup is cooled, remove and discard the bay leaves and remove half of the potatoes to a large bowl (if you are NOT using instant potatoes later).  Thoroughly mash the potatoes and return them to the soup.   Stir in the milk and return the soup to a low burner to re-heat.  If you are using instant potatoes as a quicker thickener, add them when the soup is again hot.  Stir the soup thoroughly with a large whisk.


Just before serving, splash in the lemon juice and stir.  Garnish with a bit of chopped parsley and a twist or two of freshly ground pepper.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: