Sunday, June 16, 2013

Creamy Potato and Leek Soup

Who doesn't love a good potato and leek soup? It's thick, creamy, and full of flavor. There are a billion recipes out there for anyone to follow, and I developed my recipe after reading a few of them, but it's based primarily on one of Emeril Lagasse's recipes (fact: Emeril has posted at least four versions of Potato and Leek Soup on his website). I think this just proves there's no one right way to do it.

One side note: I have found that one of the best kitchen tools to have for making soups is an immersion blender. This is the immersion blender I have. A $25 tool which eliminates the need to clean up a food processor (or spill half of your food trying to get it into a food processor), or a blender. It works great for milkshakes and hot chocolate too.

Total Prep Time: 25 minutes

Total Cook Time: 45 minutes

What you'll need:

3 medium sized leeks
4 russet potatoes
1/2 cup of dry white wine (yes, that is Dave Matthews' wine in my picture. His reds are better than whites, so this has been relegated to cooking purposes)
40 ounces of chicken stock (to make this vegetarian or kosher, you could use vegetable stock)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: creme fraiche or heavy whipping cream

First things first: Open the bottle of wine and pour yourself a drink. You deserve it.

Next, peel and dice your potatoes, then put them aside. You want to dice the potatoes in a medium dice, but the important thing is to try and get them to be somewhat uniform in size so they cook evenly.

The next step is probably the most annoying step. You're going to trim, wash and dice your leeks. Leeks themselves are some of the dirtiest vegetables you'll ever work with, no matter where you purchase them (in fact, I think Whole Foods probably brags about how much dirt is in its leeks, because more dirt = more organic). So it's very important to pay attention when you're prepping your leeks, because the easiest way to ruin a good soup is to end up with a mouthful of dirt.

Take a leek and cut off the bottom, flat end, like so:

Next, you're going to want to cut off the dark green part of the leek. It's hard to exactly figure out where the useable part of the leek ends, so sometimes you just have to try and cut. You can figure it out because if it's useable, the leek gives pretty easily and uniformly under your knife, rather than feeling like you're trying to saw through some palm leaves. DO NOT DISCARD THE DARK GREEN PARTS OF THE LEAVES YET.

As you can see, I misjudged the unusable part of the leek
Take the tender light green/white part of the leek and slice it in half, lengthwise.

When the leeks are cut like this, it's easiest to wash them. Hold the leek halves under running cool water and loosen the layers gently with your fingers, allowing the water to run through. Check for any stuck-on grit or dirt--it's very apparent. Then return the leeks to the cutting board and dice them uniformly.

In a large saucepan (I use a 4 quart saucepan that has handles on both sides), melt 2 tbsp. of butter on a medium heat. Once the butter starts to bubble a little bit, throw the leeks in and stir with a wooden spoon gently to mix the butter on to the leeks. Let the leeks cook for about 5 minutes, or until they become tender and somewhat translucent.

Add 1/2 cup of dry white wine (you could add an extra splash or two without hurting it) and raise the temperature so the wine will boil. After it boils, add the remainder of the ingredients--the potatoes, the whole sprigs of thyme, the bay leaves and the chicken stock. Then, add two of the largest, darkest leek tops after trimming the edges and rinsing. 

Gourmet tip: Emeril recommends that you make something called a bouquet garni using these leek leaves and tying up the thyme, bay leaves, and also a handful of peppercorns in between the leaves. I tried doing this exactly once, and all of the peppercorns escaped the bouquet garni and I cut myself on the stupid leek leaves, so I decided that I'd just go fishing for the remnants at the end of the process. It tastes the same.

Liberally salt and pepper the mixture. Usually I recommend conservative salting and peppering, but this recipe needs more salt and pepper than you think it does. Trust.

Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then simmer (covered) for about 30 minutes. Taste the mixture to make sure you're happy with the flavor profile, and then also check to make sure the potatoes are tender. Turn the heat off (or move the saucepan off the flame momentarily) and remove the dark green leek leaves, bay leaves, and sprigs of thyme (most of the little tiny thyme leaves will have fallen off of the stalks, which is perfectly acceptable, but you want to get the stalks out of there). 

Now it's time to blend. If you're using a food processor or a blender, you'll transfer the mixture in the amounts that your equipment can handle. But here's why the immersion blender is so great: NO MORE DISHES. No transferring boiling hot liquid and spilling it on you and in the crack between your oven and your counter. Just, one pot, instant creamy goodness.

After you get a smooth consistency with the soup, ladle into individual bowls and seve. You can put a tiny dollop of creme fraiche or a swirl of heavy whipping cream on the soup to make it fancy and to add an even more luxurious, rich taste, but it's really quite delicious without the extra dairy.  Serve, and enjoy!

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