Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Is It Vichyssoise or Potato Leek Soup?

Mr. Rosemary strolled through the kitchen, spied the leeks on the counter and asked, "Whatcha makin'?"

"Potato and leek soup for lunch," I said.

"You mean Vichyssoise?"

The man surprises me all the time. How could someone who confuses broccoli and cauliflower ("What's the white one?") know that potatoes + leeks = Vichyssoise?

Technically, I don't like Vichyssoise because -- technically --Vichyssoise is served cold, and, although I like to drink a cold smoothie, I want to eat my warm soup with a spoon.

I should like Vichyssoise because, according to Mr. Rosemary, if it has any semblance of something "foreign," I'm gonna love it. But Vichyssoise isn't really French; Potage Parmentier is.  Read on.

Vichyssoise was created by a French chef, Louis Diat, while he was working at the Ritz Carlton in New York in the early 20th century.

Apparently, in the days before air conditioning, the Ritz had a Japanese roof garden and Diat was searching for a something that would cool his customers in the blistering summer heat. He remembered the peasant dish, a potato soup, his mother had made when he was a boy. He and his familywould cool the soup by adding milk to it.  So he prepared this same cold soup and called it "creme vichyssoise" after a famous spa near his boyhood home. A welcome treat by his summer patrons, by popular demand he placed it on the menu full-time in 1923.

Although you won't find Vichyssoisse on a French menu, Potage Parmentier, Vichysoisse's cousin, is definitely French, and was popularized in America thanks to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

This soup is deceptively hearty. And it's definitely adaptable: You can use your immersion blender and make it smooth, even more so, if you strain it. Or you can add cooked bacon or ham to it to satisfy any carnivore predilections.

But I like it a little chunky with the bits of lumps in it, mashing the potatoes a bit.

There's only one problem with this soup and that's working with the leeks. First of all, they're inconvenient. They take up a lot of space and they're pretty dirty. No quick rinse will do -- they need a thorough washing to make sure you get all the bits of sandy dirt from between the layers.

But that bit of effort is worth it. Mais oui?

Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from several sources: 
Once Upon A Chef, The Splendid Table,  Serious Eats
Makes about 6 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
7 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 thyme sprigs
3 whole bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup half and half

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the leeks and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and wilted, about 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary so as not to brown.
Add the potatoes, stock, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper to pot and bring to a boil. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft.
Fish out the thyme sprig and bay leaves, then purée the soup with a hand-held immersion blender until smooth. Or, you can just slightly mash, as I did, with the back of a wooden spoon or a hand-held masher) Add the half and half and bring to a simmer. Taste and add sal t and pepper to your liking. Garnish with some chopped herbs, just to make it pretty.


  1. Love this soup! But although it's good chilled, I'm never in the mood for it in cold soup season. Too filling. But warm, at this time of the year? Yes. :-) Fun post -- thanks.

    1. Thanks for visiting again, John, after my break! Yes, I love this soup, too. Too often, though, I find the leeks in the supermarket either rather sad-looking or just pricey. But they looked fresh and the price was right!

  2. So nice to have you back blogging again Rosemary, you've been missed. I love both a good vichyssoise and hot potato soup so I know I would enjoy you recipe.

    1. Good to be missed, Karen. Thanks for continuing to read. I love this soup, love to cook, love to write abot it. (And love to read your blog, too!)

  3. I could live on soup this time of year! I haven't made a potato soup yet this season and this one fits the bill deliciously. Loved reading about your husband's comment and the history of Vichyssoise!

    1. I'm with you, Susan; it's soup time of year. I've eaten soup (usually my what's-in-the-fridge kind) every day this week. . . but then I could year-round, too!

  4. Whatever the name one chooses to use, this is a delightful soup and I truly appreciate that you referred to three classic cookbooks for your version! I enjoy doing that too! I'm so glad to have you blogging again! Hope your 2016 is wonderful, Rosemary!

    1. It is a great soup. I so often amke my soups from nothing, I forgot how delightful it is to start one from scratch. (This one was so good!) Thanks for stopping by, Roz. Hoping your new year is going along swell, too. Love reading your travel posts.

    2. It is a great soup. I so often amke my soups from nothing, I forgot how delightful it is to start one from scratch. (This one was so good!) Thanks for stopping by, Roz. Hoping your new year is going along swell, too. Love reading your travel posts.

  5. Vichyssoise..I didn't even know that! The soup looks very tasty.

    1. Creamy,tasty, warming. You should give it a try, Angie!


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