Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Classic French Vichyssoise

A classic cold summer soup, Vichyssoise thickened with fresh cream and chives is one of the ultimate dishes on a hot summer day. Traditionally served chilled, thick and creamy Leek and Potato Soup is just as delicious served steaming hot during the winter in front of a roaring fire. Made with puréed leeks, potatoes, cream, and chicken stock, the origins of Vichyssoise are still a subject of debate among culinary historians.

Louis Diat

Louis Diat's cookbook, published in 1946

Julia Child

Julia Child's The Way To Cook

Although Julia Child called it an American invention, Louis Diat, a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, is most often credited with its invention. Diat told New Yorker Magazine in 1950 that in the summer of 1917, when he had been at the Ritz for seven years, he reflected on the Potato and Leek Soup which his mother and grandmother used to make. Seeking to invent some 'new and startling cold soup' for the menu at the Ritz-Carlton, he recalled his mother's soup, and began experimenting with a combination of leeks, onions, potatoes, butter, milk, cream and other seasonings. The soup was first titled Crème Vichyssoise Glacée, named after Vichy, a town not far from his home town of Montmarault, France.

Louis Diat's Crème Vichyssoise Glacée
Serves 8

Recipe courtesy of Gourmet Magazine Archives

4 leeks, dark green tops discarded
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 russet baking potatoes, peeled, diced, about 3 cups
2 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
White pepper to taste
Fresh chives for garnish

Split the leeks lengthwise, wash them well, and chop them coarse. You should have about 2 1/2 cups. In a kettle, cook leeks and onions in butter, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are softened. Add potatoes, with 4 cups water and salt. Simmer mixture, covered, 30 to 40 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Add milk and half-and-half and bring mixture just to a boil, stirring.

In a blender purée the mixture in batches and strain it through a very fine sieve into a bowl. Stir the cream and white pepper into the soup and chill it, covered, until very cold. Garnish with finely sliced fresh chives.

Julia Child's Vichyssoise
Serves 6-8

6-7 cups cold water
4 cups leeks, white portion only, sliced
4 cups peeled baking potatoes, diced
1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream, sour cream or crème fraîche
1 tbsp minced chives or parsley
nasturtiums for garnish, optional (my addition)

Bring the leeks, potatoes, and water to the boil in a large saucepan. Salt lightly, cover partially, and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Purée the soup if you wish. Taste, and correct seasoning. After chilling the soup, you may wish to stir in a little sour cream, heavy cream or crème fraîche. Taste carefully again, and correct the seasoning. Top each serving with a sprinkle of chives or parsley, and some edible flowers such as nasturtiums if you wish.