With all the buzz surrounding French cooking these days, (thanks, Julia!) I couldn’t help but try this classic, chilled soup. And the timing was right, since all summer I’ve wanted to find a soup fit for the season, something I could rely on any day of the week, for any occasion, and still be interesting enough that I wouldn’t tire of eating it. Let's just say my expectations were high.
After a few failed attempts at two versions of gazpacho this summer, I returned to a tabbed page of Fine Cooking magazine and instantly knew, even before I made it, that this soup would be the one. I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you that this soup is absolutely divine. It’s actually the only chilled soup you’ll ever need to learn because once you dip a spoon into the bowl and taste the creamy, almost custard-like consistency of leeks, potatoes and a fresh sprinkle of chives, you’ll understand.
The warmed-up version of this soup is nothing new here. I make it once a week during fall and winter, without thinking now. But it’s been hot, and the recent wave of wildfires hasn’t exactly been helping the air quality in Los Angeles. Even though summer is coming to an end (sigh), there is still plenty of time to give this recipe a try. As easy as this soup is to make, there are a couple of tricks that will ensure it’s always impressive and impeccably smooth.
The Blender. I normally go on and on about my immersion blender. I’ve dedicated entire posts to how obsessed I am with this kitchen appliance, and when it’s a bit cooler outside it always stays plugged in on the counter in case I decide to make soup on a whim. But this time, I set it aside and pulled out my red KitchenAid blender instead. The blender is essential, and while I don’t tend to give orders around here, absolutely mandatory to getting the consistency right. The blade configuration will give the soup its silky, wow factor.
The Sieve. I had really, really small Yukon potatoes, and the prospect of peeling them was an experience I wasn’t ready to commit to, so I threw them into the pot, skins and all. Even if you do peel the potatoes (which is recommended), you must, must put the blended soup through a sieve. It’s Part 2 of the blending process that will ensure that no lumps or bits of skin remain in the soup. It might take a little time (and elbow grease), but the final product is absolutely worth the effort.
The Cream. Did I mention this soup was French? You don’t actually need a lot (I used slightly less than the recommended 1 cup). It’s like giving a gift wrapped without a bow—you just wouldn’t do it. (Ok, you might, when time is short or you just don’t have enough spools of ribbon, but you get the idea.) In this case, the cream finishes the soup and imparts a subtly sweet flavor that lingers in the mouth after every bite.
Presentation. Not as essential as the blender or sieve, but a soup this lovely deserves a proper presentation. When I eat this alone, any bowl will do, so long as it’s sprinkled with freshly cracked pepper and garnished with minced chives. But for company last weekend I poured some into martini glasses, which was a fun way to add some visual interest at the table.
Vichyssoise (Chilled Potato and Leek Soup)
4 medium leeks, trimmed and washed as directed opposite, sliced 1/8 inch thick (about 3 cups)
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick (about 4 cups)
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives, for garnish
Combine the leeks, potatoes, milk, and 2 cups water in a 4-quart pot.
Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add 1-1/2 tsp. salt, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until a potato slice falls apart when you poke it with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream, and let cool briefly.
Purée the soup, preferably using a regular blender and working in batches, filling it only half way each time.
Strain the puréed soup through a fine sieve. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally (stirring prevents a skin from forming), and then refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Before serving, thin the soup with water if necessary—it should be the consistency of heavy cream. Season to taste with salt. Serve cold in chilled bowls, garnished with the chives.