You have probably heard the name Vichyssoise but may not know what it is. And here you might be surprised. The food indelibly linked to elegance from a bygone era is…cold potato soup. It is startling to think that Babe Paley in 1960 at Le Cirque was eating a version of what was grudgingly ladled out to inmates in Soviet gulags at the same time, but such is life.
This is kind of a pain in the neck to make, compared to what you get, but if you have people over when it’s warm outside and you casually say, “I thought we’d start with Vichyssoise…”, well, that’s something they won’t forget in a hurry. It’s not difficult, it’s just that’s in done in steps. Many steps.
Take it away, Tony.
4 tablespoons butter
8 leeks, white part only, cleaned and thinly sliced
[If you can’t find leeks, you could use shallots or scallions. I have, although Anthony most certainly would have not.]
2 medium potatoes, peeled, cut into small cubes
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
4 fresh chives, finely chopped
1 pinch nutmeg
salt and fresh pepper
I’m going to let Tony speak for himself, because while I have his Les Halles cookbook I found this reproduced online. So, it will save me time transcribing and he, very sadly, is no longer with us. I do have a few notes.
In a large, heavy bottom pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Once butter is melted, add the leeks and sweat for 5 minutes, making sure they do not take on any color. [If they start to brown you haven’t sweated them, you’ve sautéed them.]
Add potatoes and cook for a minute or two, stirring a few times.
Stir in the chicken broth and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook on low heat, gently simmering for 35 minutes, or until the leeks and potatoes are very soft. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
Slowly, and in SMALL batches, purée the soup at a high speed in the blender. Do this bit by bit, never filling the blender too high. Make sure the blender’s lid is on, and lean on the top when you turn on. If not the burn you will get is awful, and a most frequent accident in even professional kitchens. [I never knew this, did you? I will always try to remember this, but I don’t make a lot of cold soups.]
Return soup to the cooking pot and whisk in cream and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Return to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook 5 minutes. If you want to thin soup out, add more broth, if needed.
Transfer soup to the mixing bowl and chill over the ice bath, stirring occasionally.
[Let’s pause here for a minute. It should be “a mixing bowl” because you haven’t used one yet. Ideally you have another one that is about the same size that you fill with ice and water. Put the bowl with the soup in it over that one. You do this to get the soup to quickly stop cooking, otherwise it would go for too long.]
When soup is at room temperature, and only at room temperature, cover in plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator to cool.
Check seasoning [taste it; add more salt and pepper if you want, or maybe even more nutmeg], sprinkle with chives and serve in chilled bowls.
[Now here’s the best part:]
This soup DOES get better over time. Keep covered with plastic, not foil, in the refrigerator, or it will pick up other tastes.
[So, what I do is, I make this earlier in the day and get it out of the way. That is, when we used to have people over and I was making Vichyssoise, and that seems like a lifetime ago now.]