I recently gave a dinner party for a special group of people who had given the rehearsal dinner on our daughter’s recent wedding weekend. I wanted the menu to be excellent and commensurate with my gratitude for their generous contribution. Since Bastille Day was the following day, I decided on a vaguely French menu. Because of the torrid heat this summer, I wanted to make at least one course cool and refreshing. “I know! I’ll make vichyssoise,” I exclaimed. So what if I’d never made it before. So what if it actually is not really French. I decided some culinary license was in order and began to search for recipes.
In his book, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain wrote that Vichyssoise was one of the first dishes he ever ate as a child that inspired him to think there is artistry in food. He first tried it under very luxurious circumstances, while crossing the ocean on a ship on the way to Europe with his family. He loved the fact that it was cold and the delicacy of its delicious flavor.
This is probably about all I have in common with Anthony Bourdain, besides my love of food, but I enjoyed a similar experience as a child. I also first tried it while dining in a special restaurant while on vacation with my family. I think I was about 9 nine years old. I, too, was charmed by the novelty of a cold creamy potato soup and the experience became a treasured foodie memory.
So once I decided to try it, I gravitated toward a recipe inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s Vichyssoise at the restaurant Les Halles. It looked pretty easy: potatoes, leeks, stock and cream are the main ingredients and all were available locally. The soup is garnished with chopped chives, which grew plentifully in a planter on my terrace. And actually, it was pretty easy. The recipe I used purportedly served six. Since I was serving eleven for dinner I decided to double it. That proved to be grossly unnecessary, partly because of the amount of stock I added and partly because it was served in small, fancy soup bowls borrowed from a friend, which held small, appetizer sized portions. Readers, I ended up with almost enough to swim in! However, my daughter and her husband were in town for the weekend and managed swill most of the leftovers the next day.
So, I’m providing a recipe that should provide 8 to 10 first course sized portions. If you are lucky, you will have yummy leftovers the next day, because the soup is even more delicious the longer it mellows in the fridge.
4 tablespoons butter
8 leeks, white and pale green part only, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 medium potatoes, cut into cubes
4 cups of chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
4 fresh chives, chopped
A pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
In a large pot with a heavy bottom, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once butter is melted, add the leeks and cook for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally and do not allow the leeks to brown.
Add the cubed potatoes and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chicken stock, and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down and allow the ingredients to simmer for 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.
Remove from the heat and allow the soup to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
Now, I’m going to share the techniques that makes this recipe easy peasy instead of a giant pain in the butt. If you do not own an immersion blender, please buy one before you make this soup. Because, who wants the misery of trying to pour warm soup into a blender to purée it, in several batches. Talking about an accident waiting to happen! In fact, I have long avoided any recipe that involved putting multiple batches of hot liquid in a blender, in light of my clumsiness and tendency to burn myself in the kitchen.
If you have an immersion blender all you have to do is purée the mixture right in the pot. Voila! It’s done in the blink of an eye and your kitchen does not become an unholy mess.
Once puréed, whisk in the heavy cream and the nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Now, you get to have even more fun and sadly, I do not have a short cut for this step. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Set the bowl inside an even larger bowl that is filled with ice. This is called an “ice bath”. I bet you could have figured that out for yourself. The goal is to quickly cool the soup to room temperature before you refrigerate it. You don’t want to leave a cream soup sitting out for a long period of time, lest it spoil and make everyone sick.
Once cool, cover the bowl with plastic wrap so that it does not pick up other flavors in the fridge. I recommend that you make the soup the day before you plan to serve it because the favors develop better over time.
Before serving, check your seasonings. Cold soup may require more salt and pepper. Serve in chilled bowls and sprinkle with chives. I also added a tiny sprinkle of truffle salt.
My guests were delighted and surprised when served the soup. It has the unique quality of being cold and refreshing, yet retaining the comfort factor of creamy potato soup. Everyone absolutely loved it!
As a side note, Vichyssoise was invented by a French chef working in New York. It was inspired by a soup made by his grandmother who lived near the Vichy region of France. Hence, the name. So it’s not really French, but everyone associates it with France. I believe Julia Child even included it in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What can I say, it’s French enough for me!
Plan to make it soon and enjoy some Cold Comfort of your own.
“Cooking is one of the strongest ceremonies for life. When recipes are put together, the kitchen is a chemical laboratory involving air, fire, water and the earth. This is what gives value to humans and elevates their spiritual qualities. If you take a frozen box and stick it in the microwave, you become connected to the factory.”
“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”
― Mark Twain