We’ve been beaten down by some brutal heat here in Hollywood this past week. So when our final night of the Hollywood Bowl season tickets rolled around, I needed something cool to eat. I chose Chilled Potato Leek Soup and served it alongside freshly shucked oysters. Vichyssoise for vicious weather, you might say. After 6 solid days of nearly 100 degree weather, I couldn’t stomach anything that might raise my body temperature.
I know I sound like a wimp, but when I signed on to the whole ‘LA lifestyle’ thing it was the 70-something and sunny part that really sold me. I’d lived in Santa Barbara for several years before I moved to Los Angeles. I moved here because Santa Barbara can be way too cold (all year-long). Not snowstorm cold, but still it’s chilly and gray– a lot. So Los Angeles seemed perfect at 70-something and sunny a glorious 300 days a year.
Despite what you may think about Potato Leek Soup, in its purest, Frenchiest form it’s not always chilled and it’s not always a heavy, creamy concoction. My version is finished with just a touch of cream however. Which adds a luxurious bit of richness without being overly indulgent. Because honestly, a touch is all this soup needs to be creamy and delicious. I should know, I lived on the stuff back in the summer of ’09 when I broke my jaw. So much so that I guess I’ve avoided it ever since. This heat wave knocked some soup sense into me and I’ve decided to share my simple version of Chilled Potato Leek Soup once again.
Chilled or not, Potato Leek Soup is strongly associated with the French. However, when it’s served chilled, it’s often called the very French sounding name of vichyssoise. Though vichyssoise was actually ‘invented’ in New York at a ‘French’ restaurant.
Still, I love classic French cooking. I have a lot of opinions about it too, especially for someone who’s not French.
When many of us think of French soup our mind automatically turns to French Onion Soup. French onion soup succeeds on many levels. Its utter lack of pretension is just one winning aspect of this soup. Potato Leek Soup too excels at simplicity.
In its most basic French form (my favorite form) Potato Leek Soup is nothing more than a couple of medium leeks sautéed in a few tablespoons of butter. I use 1 1/2 pounds, more or less, of peeled potatoes cut into chunks to 2 chopped leeks. The ratio is amendable to your particular taste. I follow the advice of Joel Robuchon and use waxy potatoes. They have a lighter potato flavor and are less heavy and starchy on the palate. But I promise you any type of potato is fine. In fact a great many chefs in France favor brown potatoes. In any case the chunked potatoes are tossed in with the leeks and butter. You should then add just enough water to cover the potatoes and the leeks (about 5 or 6 cups it turns out). Add a couple big pinches of salt and bring the pot to a boil. At this point turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until the potatoes begin to disintegrate; about half an hour. I usually use the back of my spoon to gently break the potatoes down to a rough puree once they are soft enough. This way it’s quite easy to use an immersion blender to finish the job resulting in a smooth velvety texture.
An additional dollop of butter is a very good idea if you’re serving the soup warm. I personally like a tiny bit of cream (less than 1/2‑cup) and a spritz of lemon juice stirred into the chilled version right before serving. Though neither is a mandatory amendment. In my mind it’s the cream that transforms the classically French Potato Leek Soup into the Americanized vichyssoise. But heck, I’m an American and I don’t mind the transformation. GREG