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.
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!)
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.
Potato Leek Soup
vaguely adapted from Bouchon
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.
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.