It’s a mellow Sunday and one of the first gorgeous days of spring. Outside thousands of New Yorkers are tucking into baked eggs and already on their second Bloody Mary.
My mother, Matt, and I are inside discussing the flavor whereabouts of a certain Potato-Leek soup we’re attempting out of The America’s Test Kitchen. We’ve decided that the recipes in the book are deliberately more about technique than flavor, partially because we love Cook’s Illustrated and want to give them props and partially because we can’t imagine why the soup is soo bland. The traditional Vichyssoise and this hot adaptation may be mild, true. But while my mother rightly pointed out, “it is potato and leek soup, so it’s not like it’s going to kick ass,” we’ve spent the brunch period building some elegant flavors out of these potatoes and leeks.
Making soup requires patience and a lot of tasting. Done well, it’s like a conversation between cook and broth. Sluuuurp. What does it need? Aha, yes! More pepper?
In our kitchen it’s a full discussion. What do you think? It’s bland. You? Yeah, it needs something more. Salt? Pepper? Wine? We don’t have wine. Beer? Yea, sure, why not. Glug glug glug. Look, it’s frothing. Sluuurp. It tastes like flowers and yeast. It needs something more. Milk? Yea. Does anyone know what bay leaves do? Yea, they taste like crunchy paper. I think they’re just put in there for the element of surprise.
The process of tasting, discussing, and building flavor continues. If you’re not prepared for some guess work, soups are not for you. But if you enjoy the mystery of working with a new recipe, then go to town and let me know how you improved this one. Arguably, why go after a recipe when there’s serious disagreement with its flavoring and lack of body. The real question is, why not? Cooking can be inspired by recipes, but does not need to follow them religiously.
My mother brought along a whole bunch of incredible peppery Parmesan and pine nut biscotti. While the introduction of the soft pint nuts was a little less than ideal, the combination of cheese and pepper was an excellent accompaniment to this soup. Also present was an egg salad sandwich made by moi’.
Original recipe from The America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 6 to 8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Use only white and light green parts of the leek, discarding the dark green leaves. If the leeks have substantial white and light green sections, use 4 pounds; however, if the usable portion of the leeks is relatively small, you’ll need 5 pounds.
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
4 to 5 pounds leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced (about 11 cups) and rinsed thoroughly
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 3/4 pounds red potatoes (5 medium), scrubbed the cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
1. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Stir in the leeks and garlic. Cover and cook until the leeks are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the broth, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
2. Smash some of the potatoes against the side of the pot to thicken the soup. Discard the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste.
To Make Ahead
This soup can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. Reheat over low heat, adding additional water or broth to adjust consistency.
Test Kitchen Tip: A Good Sweat
Sweating the leeks in a covered pot, just before adding the liquid is the key to this recipe. It might seem like this recipe calls for a lot of leeks, but the large quantity – which cooks down considerably when you sweat them – is necessary to develop a deep, well-rounded flavor for this soup.
1. Trim and discard the root and the dark green leaves.
2. Slice the trimmed leek in half lengthwise, then cut it into 1/2 inch pieces.
3. Rinse the cut leeks thoroughly to remove dirt and sand.
Added 3/4 cup milk
Added 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Increased pepper amount to 1/2 teaspoon; some added while sweating the leeks, some after the chicken broth, and some at the end
Added 2 tablespoons Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but a dry white wine is preferable
Changed instruction and pureed 1/2 cup soupy potatoes rather than smashing the potatoes
Changed instruction and cooked the leeks for 20 minutes longer than it said cause they were large
Increased thyme amount to 1 tablespoon; 1/2 while sweating, and 1/2 when the broth was in, and kept 1/4 teaspoon on sprig for garnish
Added 1 shallot, minced and sauteed for 5 minutes on medium in olive oil, then added to the broth, etc
Used homemade chicken broth
Increased amount to 4 tasteless bay leaves