Vichyssoise is a chilled potato soup which was actually created in New York City in the 1900s by a famous French chef named Louis Diat. When Chef Diat was a young boy growing up in the small village of Bourbonnais Montmarault, his maman used to prepare a hot potato soup for his daily breakfast. On warm summer mornings she would add cold milk to the soup to cool it down.
At age 8 little Louis prepared, by himself, his own pot of soup and never forgot his favorite recipe. Years later, after having apprenticed in Moulins, he worked for the Ritz Hotels in Paris and London. Around 1910, Monsieur César Ritz sent Chef Diat to oversee the kitchens of the new Ritz-Carlton in New York City. It was there that he created Vichyssoise by adding cream and chives to his mother’s recipe, and served it ice cold. It is said that he named the soup after Vichy, the renowned spa located about 20 miles from his hometown.
Leeks are related to onions, shallots and scallions. They have been cultivated in Europe for thousands of years, and were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans for supposedly helping with throat ailments. Some say that the Roman Emperor Nero ate them everyday to make his voice stronger. An important vegetable in European cuisine, leeks are used by the French to make quiche aux poireaux, chilled boiled leeks vinaigrette, both hot and cold leek/potato soup, just to name a few. They’re a staple when making pot-au-feu (see archives for my recipe).
Select leeks that are firm with dark leaves and white stems. Choose medium size ones, for the larger ones are more fibrous in texture. Store them unwashed and untrimmed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Be sure to clean them thoroughly and remove any soil trapped between the leaves.
This week’s “French Cooking Without a Fuss” is for a heavenly chilled soup of puréed leeks, potatoes, onions and cream. It’s easy to make and can be prepared well in advance, making it a wonderful starter for a hot summer day’s meal!
Cold Leek and Potato Soup
For 4-6 persons
Cooking time: 30-40 minutes
Chilling time: Minimum 3 hrs.
· 1 oz. butter
· 3 leeks-washed, trimmed and thinly sliced (white only)
· 1 onion, finely chopped
· 3 potatoes-peeled and diced
· 4 cups chicken stock (homemade or canned)
· salt and pepper, to taste
· ¼ tsp. mace
· 1 cup cream
· 2 tbsp. chives, chopped
Melt butter, and sauté leeks and onion over low heat for about 5 minutes. Do not brown. Add potatoes and stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
Take off heat and let cool, then purée in a blender or food processor. Add seasonings and cream. Place in refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Serve very cold, sprinkled with the chives.
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April Paute moved to France over 10 years ago with her husband Jean Michel and 2 Siamese cats. Armed with only a dictionary and hand signals, she took on the challenge of requesting the local boucher decapitate a chicken for her. After living in Paris and Antibes, April & co. have settled in Toulouse, where she draws inspiration from her herb garden.