October 10, 2010


A few years ago, I received the Bouchon cookbook as a gift. This cookbook changed my kitchen life permanently. I cooked every recipe. Most more than once. I worked to achieve perfection, because that’s what Chef Thomas Keller demands.

The book is brilliant for so many reasons. The layers of herbs and textures and colors are remarkable in every dish. The attention to technical detail just flat out made me a better cook. It taught me the beauty of little acidic, spicy side dishes and condiments, for the way they made simply, perfectly prepared foods sing. I practiced my knife skills until I could brunoise with the best of them.

One of the first revelatory recipes I made from Bouchon was Potato Leek Soup. This was not my first potato soup. Julia Child’s Potage Parmentier was in my repertoire when I was in college. In my picnicking days, Craig Claiborne’s Vichyssoise was a constant companion. But when Chef Keller makes this soup, there’s not a single member of the onion family left behind, and that seemed like a very good idea.

This is a soup that takes about an hour to make. It’s hardly worth making, though, if you don’t have good homemade chicken stock. Strong, chicken-y and golden. The kind that gels when it cools.

I’ve included my super simple broth recipe – the one I’ve used for years and years, learned from my mother and my grandmother Mary. It’s the soup you make on a lazy Sunday afternoon. In my freezer, if there are fewer than four quarts, I get nervous.

(So nervous, in fact, that I’ll be pressure canning stock this week, and promise to write about it. I am beyond excited thinking of shelf stable stock. More freezer space!)

So start making this soup by getting all the ingredients out, and then get the oil and butter cooking as you chop the leeks, then the shallot, then the onion. Be precise. Make Chef proud.

After all the onions are chopped up, I veer off the Chef Keller path, and take a few liberties. My soup is a little more rustic than the original, and, if company’s coming, I recommend doing as they do at Bouchon and strain the soup through a sieve to get a super silky smooth texture. Garnish with something extra naughty – creme fraiche or Amanda Hesser’s savory whipped cream.

If you’re making family dinner, don’t bother peeling the potatoes, leave out the cream, and toss together a spicy, crisp, acidic salad, slice a crispy baguette and some Wild Boar Sausage (Meatcrafters at the Bethesda Central Farm Market.) It’s fall and this is what dinner looks like at our house.

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Potato Leek Soup
vaguely adapted from Bouchon

Serves 4

2 T unsalted butter
2 T olive oil
4 leeks, white and pale green parts sliced in thin rounds
4 shallots, sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced into thin half moons
1/2 lb. yukon gold potatoes
1 lb red skinned potatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
Herb bundle – 4 sprigs Italian parsley, 6 springs thyme, 2 bay leaves – tied together
Liberal amounts of salt and pepper
8 c chicken broth, homemade and concentrated in flavor
Chives or Scallions, for garnish
Cream or Creme fraiche, for garnish, optional

In a 5 qt stockpot, heat the butter and oil until bubbling and foamy.
Slice the leeks and add to the pot, coating with the fats and sweating while you continue chopping.
Slice the shallots and add to the pot.
Slice the onion and add to the pot.
Cook slowly for about 15-20 minutes until translucent, wilted and smelling sweet.
Mince the garlic and add to the onion mixture, stir and cook for two minutes.
Chop the potatoes in a 3/4″ dice. It’s up to you whether you peel them or not.
Add the potatoes and herb bundle. Stir to coat with the fats.
Salt and pepper well.
Add 7 c of the chicken stock. Bring to a boil then reduce and simmer for 20-30 min. covered, until the potatoes are cooked through.
Either use an immersion blender or put the soup through the blender (carefully as it’s hot) and return it to the pot.
Add stock, if necessary, until the soup is the correct consistency.  Bring it back up to a simmer. Taste for salt and pepper.
To serve, garnish with chopped chives or scallion and a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Perfect Chicken Stock

Chicken backs, necks, carcasses, wing tips – about 5# *
4 Carrots, root end trimmed, chopped into  2″ chunks
Celery leaves (about a cup) or 2 celery stalks, chopped into 2″ chunks
2 yellow onions, quartered, skin left on
2 bay leaves
6 stalks of thyme
6 stalks of parsley
10 pepper corns
1 lemon, quartered

Put everything in your largest pot. Cover with cold, clean water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.
Simmer, cover slightly askew, for 4-6 hours. Taste it. It should be chicken-y. If not, cook it longer.
Strain the soup through a sieve.
Chill the soup. I fill my sink with cold water and ice and dunk the pot to quickly chill the soup.
Then refrigerate overnight. The next morning, peel the chicken fat off the top. The soup should be jiggly and jelled.
(Keep the schmaltz/chicken fat to fry potatoes. Or, if your cholesterol is high, as mine is, you will dispose of it in order to avoid any temptation.)
You should have about 3 quarts. Freeze in pints or quarts or in ice cube trays.

You will notice I don’t salt the broth. I like to add salt when I cook with it.

*I usually buy whole chickens and either roast them whole or cut them up, as needed, for our dinners. The backbones, necks and wing tips go into a bag in the freezer until there is enough to make a pot of soup, or until I need space in the freezer. You can also use carcasses from whole roasted chickens – as long as they haven’t been brined. In a pinch, I’ll make a pot of stock with a family pack of wings from the grocery store, just make sure to get natural, organic, no-hormones added chicken.

At the Bethesda Central Farm Market, preorder from Springfield Farm to get backs, necks and feet for stock-making.

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19 Responses to “Potato Soup meets the Onion Family”

  1. David Dadekian

    I so love this post. I could live every day making stock. My copy of Bouchon got well used, but when Ad Hoc came out that became my go to book (of Keller’s). Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Liz the Chef

    This is my favorite soup – I can’t wait to try your recipe! Hoping to attack “Ad Hoc” together somehow, maybe have a group of us try a recipe the same weekend? Lovely post – best, Liz

    Reply
  3. wendy

    I think I will have to make this soup soon – I’m only just starting to think “fall.” We’ve been enjoying that wild boar sausage too! It’s fabulous. Your photos look great, btw.

    Reply
  4. Sunchowder

    Cathy, fabulous post! My grandma’s soup was similar to yours and she always used to make schmaltz for us (she mixed in fried onions). I have wonderful memories of smearing schmaltz on matzoh…ahh. I adore the Ad Hoc book, it is right next to me here at my desk, funny enough I was looking at it last week for inspriration. Thanks so much for posting this 🙂

    Reply
    • Cathy

      Thanks, Wendy. My grandma made schmaltz by rendering the fat with minced onion. But she also saved the fat scraped from the top of the soup. She used it all the time and I miss it! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Ellen

    I’ve made chicken stock for years and a few years into it learned to leave the skin on the onions. I think it adds a great rich color (and flavor). The soup and the book sound great!

    Curious about pressure cookers. Any recommendations?

    Reply
  6. Bexcellence

    Just made the soup; pretty amazing depth of flavor compared to Julia’s recipe (which is no slouch of a recipe). We’re a meat free household, so I used veggie stock. Soup would do better with a slight savory twang, but still earned the rare partner nod of approval. So yes, I encourage people to make this even if they don’t have chicken stock that is so good I can nearly smell it through my screen!

    Reply
  7. Holly B

    Ok, it hit 93 here today, so probably not this evening, but I am SO looking forward to making this. And you’ve reminded me that I want to get my Ad Hoc book out again too. >Mwah!<

    Reply
  8. Sabina

    This sounds delicious, and you’ve inspired me to make my own chicken stock. I love potato leek soup with watercress, too!

    Reply
  9. Tricia

    Stumbled across this looking for a leek and potato soup that included shallots. We live in Mexico City and shallots arent always available in our neighborhood. Needless to say when I saw some this last week I bought quite a bit. 😉 will be browsing the rest of your lovely blog for recipes, so glad google sent me here!

    Reply

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