Leek Soup

  • 2 whole leeks
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 6 oz. cream
  • 4 red potatoes or 2 russet potatoes
  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon, or 4 oz. diced ham
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • thyme
  • parsley
  • chives
  • unground peppercorns
  • cayenne
  • salt and pepper
  • cooking twine

To clean your leeks, first trim off the root beard and the top dark green portion of the upper leaves. What you want to keep are those white portions of the stems and the lighter green portions where the stems turn in to the leaves. Do reserve two of the dark upper leaves, but discard the remainder of the fibrous dark green leaves.

Slice the leeks in half lengthwise (down the long axis, not across their diameters). Slice the white and light green portions of the leeks into thin c-shaped crescents; you’ll notice that  a lot of layers packed in there which will come apart (you want them to do that). Do not cut the reserved upper leaves. Place the sliced leeks in a bowl full of clean, cold water, and massage the sandy soil off the leeks with your hands. Allow the water to come to rest and the sand to settle to the bottom of the bowl. Without disturbing the sand on bottom, lift the leek slices out of the water and drain them (I used a fry spider for this; a slotted spoon would work well too). Leave the long leaves in for a few minutes after that, so they can fully hydrate — you want them as flexible as you can get them.

Next, you will need to prepare a bouquet garni. Oooh noes, this sounds all Fer-ench! Relax, it’s easy — it’s basically a teabag for herbs that you’re going to make out of those reserved leek leaves. First, finely chop up the thyme and parsley. Drain out the long green leek leaves, which should be mostly flexible after rehydration in the cold water bath. Nestle the ground thyme, about two dozen peppercorns, and bay leaves in the leek leaf. Then use the second leaf to sandwich them in. Fold in the edges and then bind it all together with the twine, enough that none of the contents of your leek leaf “sandwich” will escape once you immerse it, but just loosely enough that liquid can flow in and out of it. If the leek leaf snaps, don’t worry about it, just keep the tie reasonably tight. Félicitations, mes amis, you’re all French chefs now. (When you get really good, and I haven’t got this good yet by a long sight, you can use a whole chive instead of the twine.) If you can’t do it with the leek leaves, then put the herbs in a little bindle made out of cheesecloth instead.

To make a good balanced soup, you need to bring four elements together: a liquid base, a protien, a starch, and a fat. The protein brings flavor, the starch brings texture, and the fat binds it. Because the fat serves as the binding, you’ll usually want to start there. Cooking time is usually dependent on how long it takes any proteins to cook through or for vegetables to soften. Often, proteins come from non-meat sources, such as beans, or are built in to the liquid base, as when you use an animal stock. Here, I’m indulgently using three fatty ingredients and three proteins: the pork, the cream, and the stock all have fats and proteins integrated; there’s also considerable fat in the butter and the cream. But the star of the show is the leeks with their subtle oniony flavor. 

Using a Dutch oven, soup pot, or other vessel capable of holding at least three quarts of liquid on medium heat, melt the butter with a sprinkle of the cayenne. Then add your pork. Cook until it’s soft, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, wash and finely dice your potatoes. You’re going for about a quarter-inch cube. I like to leave the skins on; it isn’t going to matter at the end of the day since you’re going to be putting your soup in a blender before service.

By the time you’re done dicing the potatoes, the fat should be rendered out of your pork, so it’s time to add the leeks to your pot. Get the leeks nicely saturated with the butter and pork base. (Mmmm, lard.) Cook the leeks for about five minutes, until they are soft. Now you add in the stock, potatoes, the garni, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a soft boil and then take the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for about half an hour, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft enough to mash with a wooden spoon.

Remove and discard the garni. Run the stock through a blender until it is smooth. Finish by adding the cream directly into the serving tureen and stirring until the color is a uniform pale green, and the texture velvety. Garnish with chopped chives. You should be able to get at least eight appetizer-sized bowls, or four meal-sized bowls out of this soup. With a slice or two of baugette, the soup is hearty and comforting enough to be a main course.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Congratulations. Not once did you slip up and say “Take your leeks …”

  2. One clove (the spice, not a clove of something) added to the herb mixture will bump the flavor profile without tasting of cloves.

    This is a nice recipe, Burt. I’d heat the cream gently before adding it to the tureen, and I’d also heat the tureen before using it, either by letting it stand for a few minutes filled with hot water or placing it in a warm oven for a bit.

    As an alternative to a blender, an immersion blender in the pot will work; the picture above shows a course soup, not a smooth one, and I prefer it like that.

    On potatoes: russets would be my choice here. The break down in liquid, and make a great thickener. Waxy new potatoes, which is what red potatoes are, tend to get gummy, (because of this, they don’t make great mashed potatoes either,) they’re better for a use where holding their shape is the goal — potato salad, home fries, etc. Yukon golds are a good alternative to russets.

    I have not done this yet, but I’ve made baked-stuffed potatoes with Herbes du Provence with lavender a few times; people call them ‘divine.’ So I’ve been meaning to try the flavor combination in a leek and potato soup.

    • This is the best cooking feedback I’ve got since I can’t remember when. I will definitely add lavendar to the bouquet garnish next time! Sadly I do not own an immersion blender but since the lovely and generous Mrs. Likko reads these pages I suspect I soon will.

      • Two things…

        1.) I second zic’s recommendation of the immersion blender for precisely the reason she offered: a chunkier, more rustic soup. Her other ideas sound great as well, but I can’t speak to them personally.
        2.) “…first trim off the root beard…” NEVER trim ANY beard. There. NOW you’ve gotten the best cooking feedback ever.

        I was planning to make a bacon lentil soup based on a recipe I just dug out, though given that most of the ingredients are the same, maybe I’ll try this instead.

        Regarding the bouquet thingamajig, it has long deterred me from trying certain recipes. A few questions:
        a. Must the herbs be whole? Or can they be dried?
        b. My mom used to have one of these for steeping her own tee: http://www.amazon.com/Mesh-Tea-Ball-2-Small/dp/B000Y8FRQA/ref=sr_1_24?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1360459871&sr=1-24&keywords=tea+infuser Could that be used to hold all the bouquet ingredients and avoid all the tying, which I’d be sure to screw up?

        • yes on the tea ball; that would work better for dried herbs.

          Parsley won’t taste the same fresh/dried — it’s rather like basil in that way. But it will still be nice. Use much less dried herb then fresh; most people say a teaspoon dried/tablespoon chopped fresh. But for the amounts given, with relatively new herbs, not ones that have been sitting in your cupboard for years, about a 1/2 to scant teaspoon of dried thyme; perhaps 1.5 teaspoons to a tablespoon of parsley.

          • Dope. And thanks. Fresh parsley is easy/cheap enough to come by and I use it in enough dishes to justify buying a bunch. Some other herbs… not so much. I hate to spend $3 on fresh basil when I only need a few leaves.

            I know… I know… grow an herb garden, right? Too many animals outdoors and too many cats indoors. I’m sure there is a solution to this…

          • More to know which herb to buy fresh, which to use dried, I think. Basil, and to a lesser extant, parsley, savory and tarragon, should always be used fresh. Dried is not the same thing.

            When basil is fresh and abundant at summer farmer’s markets, I buy as much as I can on a few trips (sometimes arranging the purchase earlier in the summer so the farmer can plan) and spend an afternoon cleaning it and grinding it with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent discoloration; I freeze it in ice-cube trays, and when frozen, transfer to zip-lock freezer bags. Whenever I need fresh basil flavor in a cooked dish, I use a frozen basil cube; but it doesn’t work as well for uncooked dishes such as pesto, for the basil blackens as it thaws. A similar trick might work when you just want a few leaves; grind and freeze the rest in a small container for a future in a minestra or red sauce.

            Oregano, I think, should always be used dried; fresh tastes of mint, not oregano. (Most of the common cooking herbs are in the mint family.) And oregano and Mexican oregano are not the same thing. Obviously given the markets selling fresh oregano, many folk don’t agree with me or simply think that fresh is always better, and don’t listen to what their mouths and nose are screaming at them.

            Thyme, rosemary, bay, mint, marjoram, etc. are all nice fresh, but either fresh or dried is acceptable, they maintain the same flavor profile in either state.

          • Oh, Zic, you are indeed a godsend. I’ve heard of freezing herbs in ice cube trays, but I always feared that was economically-wide but tastebud-foolish advice from novices. Hearing you say it (seeing you write it?) changes my perception. I’ll have to try that.

            While we’re on the topic, have you read Ruhlman’s Twenty? I just received it though haven’t read it yet, but apparently Michael Ruhlman explains the twenty basic ingredients that everyone should know how to use well but few people do. I’ve heard the chapter on onions will change the way I cook, with his emphasis being that people use onions far too rarely and in far too small of quantities and, when used right, can add amazing flavor without overpowering. Seems like a book that might be up your ally. He also has a book called Ratios, which breaks down many of the basic formulas for cooking from which you can derive endless recipes. Rather than offer you a single bread recipe, he teaches you the science of making doughs and breads, from which you can make any type of bread your heart desires. Much more Alton Brown/Good Eats than Rachel Ray/generic cooking show.

      • So this soup seriously deserves parmesan cheese popovers.

        it’s really simple.

        About 1.5 hours before you want to eat, make the batter:

        (And these are my proportions for a standard muffin pan)

        1.5 cups flour — half whole-wheat or spelt flour would be fine here
        1.5 teaspoon salt
        1.5 cups milk
        3 eggs
        1/2 cup parmesan or other flavorful cheese
        Chopped chives (optional)

        Combine all ingredients except cheese and chives in a large mixing bowl — one with a pouring spout is ideal — and beat with a whisk until smooth. Let sit for about 1/2 hour (Longer is better; you can even leave in the refrigerator over night for a.m. cooking or mix in the morning for the evening meal. The long rest is to develop the gluten proteins in the flour, which gives the popovers their lift.)

        Preheat oven to 400℉. Grease a muffin pan (I use spray olive oil for this, about the only thing I use it for, too.)

        Stir the cheese and chives into the popover batter. Fill muffin cups 1/2 full of batter. Put pan in oven, set our timer for 40 min. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR FOR THE FULL 40 MIN. When the timer goes off, take the pan out of the oven and turn the oven off. With a sharp knife or fork, poke a hole in each popover to vent the steam built up inside; if you don’t do this, they’ll get soggy. Put the pan back in the turned-off oven for another five to ten minutes to finish venting the steam.

        And on Kazzy’s point of not trimming root beards: I trim them, and the ucky leaves of the leeks. The potato peels, if you peel ’em. Anything like that’s good for the stock pot. Or the compost, at the very least. Sacred stuff, there. Keep it out of the waste stream.

        • Keep it out of the waste stream.

          We don’t garden, so we have no need for a compost pile, but I toss most of our food scraps at the base of our silver maple, right outside the kitchen window. It’s a squirrel cafeteria, and we enjoy watching them sitting in the tree enjoying their bounty.

          • I feel like there is enough material here for jokes on both communism AND tragedies of the commons, but it is too early for me to make them work. Just know I’m thinking hilariously bad things about you, Hanley.

          • It’s the road to serfdom, Kazzy. I’m going to make those furry little f***ers dependent on me, and then I’ll work on controlling all their hopes and dreams, every little thought they have.

            As to the commons, if I increase the squirrels against my neighbor’s desires, it’s just payback for their damn cats voiding their bowels in my yard and sitting on my porch as though they have a gold-plated invitation.

          • sitting on my porch as though they have a gold-plated invitation

            They do.

            Squirrels in abundance.

        • Sorry, on the beards thing I was making a clearly poor joke about facial hair.

          I don’t peel my potatoes and wish a pox on those who do. They’re the tastiest AND most nutritious part!

      • To Mrs. Likko, who we know is the most beautiful thing in the world when she laughs, I heartily recommend immersion blenders that have a battery in the handle. Mine does not; and I greatly regret this; for I don’t like using an electrical cord close to the hot stove, and the pot I want to blend is often on the stove.

        Thanks, Burt.

  3. Kazzy, on Ruhlman:

    I have Ratios, or used to, it might have gone on to a science-minded cook in the family. Not the book on 20 ingredients. But on onions, I’d agree with much of what you say. There again, we get in to the kind of onion; just like the differences in the kind of potato. Onion — alium — is a big family; leeks and chives and scallions are in it. There are shallots, cipollini, sweet onions, white onions, pearl onions, spanish onions — the variety, shapes, sizes, astound. But in general, lots of onions, chopped and a fat (usually olive oil or buter) cooked slow, low heat, a bit of salt and perhaps some herb/spice that can withstand the cooking, is a very good base for a dish.

    Last night, I made pasta sauce; mostly onions at the base (this is called a sofrito in Italian cooking, and it’s where you build the complex flavors underlying the dish. A good sofrito can lead to a tomato sauce without meat, for instance, that has incredible complex flavors of a meat sauce but also the fresh-tomato taste of a lightly cooked sauce.

    On the herbs; chop with olive oil (a mini-food processor or food processor, depending on amount, is perfect for this, but a mortar and pestle will work, too) and freeze, covered with a very thin film of additional oil and piece of plastic to keep air away. As soon as it’s frozen, transfer to something you can seal tight, don’t let them sit around in the ice-cube tray or they’ll be ruined by freezer burn. The crucial thing is keeping the air out, even when frozen. And I only use herb cubes in cooked dishes; they’re not pretty enough to keep polite company with raw foods.

    I also make meat stocks a lot and freeze it in ice-cube trays. I take a quart or so to reduce by half or more, and then cool and freeze. Transfer to something that will seal after. Use in a variety of things; rice, soup, stir-fry. A chinese stock with chicken, garlic, and ginger is great for a nearly instant cup of egg-drop soup. put the cube in a pan on the stove, add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water, and when hot, stir in an egg.

    Sometimes, I run a bag of trimmings in the freezer if I know I’ll be making a stock. The beards, the skins, the carrot tops and celery bottoms and onion peelings go in, (washed and ready to cook with), for the stock pot.

    • First, a question:

      The primary (perhaps sole?) difference between a broth and a stock is that stock includes bones that have been roasted, yes? For instance, if I make my dad’s turkey soup recipe which involves boiling down raw turkey legs, I’ve created a broth, but not a stock. Whereas, if I boil down a leftover, roasted chicken carcass, I’m making a chicken stock, not a broth. Do I have that right?

      Second, a compliment:

      Your contributions to the LoOG recently are invaluable on all fronts. However, your suggestions and tips on cooking I find uniquely special. Not only are you clearly quite a whiz in the kitchen but (and I’m going to get a bit lame here, folks, so buckle up) you speak with a real respect and passion for food that goes beyond simply making something that tastes good. Dare I say, you seem to cook with love. And passion. And that comes through in what you write here. Very impressive, and much appreciated. Thank you.

      • I guess like most people, I think of them as the same thing, except:

        stock is a component of something else, so not necessarily seasoned, and might not taste good on it’s own.

        Broth is the finished stock; maybe to drink on it’s own, or the liquid in a soup; it’s finished, flavored.

        So a stock might become a broth, and broth is generally made from stock. I frequently use broth, if I have some on hand, as part of making a new stock.

        • I’ve heard that said about stock, primarily that it shouldn’t have salt added because it is often reduced when used in other recipes, which can lead to it tasting over salted.

          So, generally speaking, if I have a recipe that calls for chicken broth, I can use chicken stock and vice versa?

          • oh, add some salt! just not “to taste”… maybe about half of what you’d be shooting for.

          • Yes, that’s what it means that the stock’s not ‘flavored.’

            What Kim said, and I slightly disagree with the notion of not adding salt to stock; a very small amount is good, helps the osmosis of flavor transport out of the vegetable components. I generally lightly salt the bones before browning them in the broiler.

            The finished product is when the level of saltiness matters; not enough, and even the best stock/broth will taste like dishwater. But here’s the thing I keep saying: you can smell when it’s right. Use your nose.

        • The problem with raw bones is that the proteins in them coagulate and make the stock cloudy. There are lots of methods to deal with this (if the cloudiness bothers), including skimming and dropping egg whites into the cooked stock to coagulate and collect the protein chains, and then skimming them out.

          I generally take raw bones and meat and the vegetables to use in a stock and throw the all in the broiler for about 10 min. to brown them, and so add to the flavor/color, and avoid the icky protein cloud.

  4. I made the soup Saturday, it was fantastic, Burt. I’ve not made potato-leek soup in years and barely remembered how good they are. It was highly praised and so I offer my gratitude for making me look good in the kitchen.

    I did take zic’s suggestion of a clove and I did use the immersion blender. I used yukon golds – I agree with her absolutely on the potato (and clove) front and would definitely not use a waxy potato. I have mostly dried herbs on hand and totally bungled the bouqet garni – so I used my tea infuser which worked very well. I just put a few leek leaves in to cook with the soup and removed along with the bay leaves before blending.

    The problem I had with was the blender I got one of those super powered ones for Christmas this year, replacing a smaller one I’d had for a long time. It completely pureed the soup to a fine liquid in about 2 seconds, which is great for a lot of things, but not a pleasantly chunky soup. It still tasted fantastic, though.
    Last time I made a similar recipe, I used the food processor, which let me control the puree a lot better. I do not own a real blender, I would guess one would offer similar control.

    One serving recommendation I can make – serve this as it’s own course. I served it twice, once as a side with salmon burgers and once as a first course before dinner. Having it alongside something strong flavored makes it hard to enjoy as it’s a relatively subtle flavor (at least compared to salmon), the second night having it alone really allowed it to shine.

    • On the potatoes: I made mine last week with some red potatoes I had on hand. Every pro I’ve ever spoken to speaks in religious tones about depleting inventory as a good — waste equals loss. It can be something of a challenge keeping a kitchen properly stocked when mostly it’s just two people eating from it — and in my case, it’s compounded by a cat who takes pleasure in breaking in to my pantry and sampling all the people food found therein.

      Anyway, in my defense for the reds: maybe it’s not the perfect potato. I hear and understand that a red is waxier and holds on to its structure at temperature more than does a russet. But I thought the soup turned out just fine as I made it. Now, I did blend it down to finer texture that the more rustic, rougher ingredient blend that zic describes in her comment and finer than is depicted in the photo I found. The more adhesive newer potatoes were structurally broken down quite a lot by my blender, and I was going for a more silky texture.

      I’ve zero objection to such a rougher blend for a soup made with potato — I think that’s an excellent suggestion and will try it myself next time. I’m just not convinced that using red potatoes in a blended soup is a bad choice. I can own “sub-optimal.”

      • Burt, sub-optimal home-made soup is divine compared to the not-homemade soup alternative soups.

        And it’s not that the waxy potatoes don’t break down when blended, it’s that they can get gummy if over-blended. As long as you’re aware of that, and do it just enough. . . they’ll work fine. (I’d guess not overcooking them helps with that, too, but that’s just a guess.)

        And I do apologize, I feel like I’ve stomped on your toes. I need to restrain myself better sometimes; but when it comes to cooking, I get all ADHD interested.

  5. I am SO EXCITED because this is a leek soup that doesn’t rely on onions. (We also managed to find a chicken stock that doesn’t include onions this weekend. Yes, yes, we should make our own. Not gonna happen.) I am allergic to onions, but only for the last few years. And I looooooooooove potato leek soup. <3 <3 <3 <3.


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