Aux Armes Citoyens, Let’s Make Some Vichyssoise
July 14 is Bastille Day, when France celebrates liberté, égalité, et fraternité manifesting themselves in a riotous storming of an armory in Paris. How better to refresh oneself from the heat of summer and revolution than with a chilled soup with a French-sounding name? Nohow, that’s what, so we’re making fuckin’ vichyssoise (VEE-shee-SWAH or vicious-WAH).
Vichyssoise was invented by the chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City in the early 20th century, inspired by childhood memories of eating leftover soup with milk. “So,” you’re saying, “This is a U.S. American dish, and you’re giving us the recipe on a French national holiday because it sounds French? That is a typically ugly American thing to do.” You are saying this because you are an incisive reader, but remember that back in the 18th century ‘Murica taught France about fighting the monarchy, both symbolically and by taking the king’s arms. (Admittedly, the French took the Bastille with much more élégance than the Green Mountain Boys used at Ticonderoga, putting the general’s head on a pike as opposed to accepting the commanding officer’s sword.) So this is a French-inspired American recipe for a French holiday celebrating American-inspired French actions.
The dish is a mild-flavored, rich purée of potatoes, leeks, broth, and cream. Purists insist on peeling the potatoes, using only the white parts of the leeks, and not allowing any browning during the sauté stage because they want the end product to be gleaming white. This is to remind you of the lost innocence of childhood and to serve as a visual harbinger of the rejuvenation you will experience eating the soup on a day that has you feeling hot, dirty, and ashamed. But that’s wasteful and time-consuming, so unless you’re trying to impress someone, just clean the spuds really well and use the light green parts of the leek if you want.
- Potatoes (2 large or 3-5 medium/small)
- Leeks (however many they give you in a bunch)
- Chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade (2 cups or so)
- Cream (1+ cup)
- Salt and pepper (Do I really have to spell that out for you people? GAH!)
Clean and dice the potatoes.
Leeks grow in the dirt and are made up of many concentric circles. Dirt and grit get all caught up in between the layers (If there’s dirt and grit in your leeks, see your doctor), so they need to be thoroughly cleaned. To do this, take a leek in your kitchen sink. This is one time when you can take a leek in the kitchen sink without angering your family or roommates. Cut the little roots off the bottom, and cut the whole thing in half longways. Run water through the layers of each half, rinsing thoroughly. Shake off the excess water, and chop the leeks up. Some people like to cut the leeks into little circles and let them soak in a big bowl of water to let the grit fall to the bottom of the bath. That’s fine too, but then you’re not taking a leek in the kitchen sink. No matter what, dry them off really well with a tea towel (that’s British for a couple of folded over paper towels).
Melt some butter in a pot; throw in the leeks and some salt and pepper (white pepper if you’re obsessed with pure whiteness), and let that sweat for a few minutes. Add the potatoes to the party, some salt and pepper, and stir it all up, getting that leeky butter all over the diced taters. Mmm hmmm, just like that.
Add the stock; bring to a boil; turn it down to a simmer. Simmer until the potatoes and leeks are nice and soft, stirring occasionally.
Remove from the heat; purée the stuff. Stick blenders are the best if you’re fortunate enough to have one. Be very careful, especially if you’re using the daiquiri-making blender (small batches and hold the lid on tight).
Return to the stove. Add the cream (milk is okay; we’re actually using a blend of milk and sour cream). Stir it until fully incorporated; bring that junk up to a light simmer.
Remove from heat; now’s a good time to taste and adjust seasonings. Allow to cool before putting it in an airtight container and into the fridge.
Serve it up at will. It gets better as it sits in your fridge. Have it with a sandwich.
Would you like to garnish it? (Of course you would, you pretentious asshole.) Chives are the classic: chopped, tied in pretty knots, or perhaps infused in oil. How about you blanch the dark green parts from the leek and then cut them into little ribbons? Go crazy and throw a soft-boiled egg in there. Offer other suggestions in the comments.
If you remain downtrodden from the summer heat after eating this soup, try bathing in it or applying the vichyssoise to your genitals (not advised for all chilled soups, e.g., spicy gazpacho).