- 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
- unground peppercorns
- 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.