Food You Can Eat: Anthony Bourdain’s Vichyssoise

Those two green things sticking up are not antennae. It is not sentient.

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.]



  1. You can tell he wrote this before immersion blenders, which prevent most of those burns.

    I’m a little surprised he wasn’t calling for a Chinois, which I bet is what they would use at Les Halles if they made big batches of Vichyssoise instead of blending a few ladles at a time. Maybe he or his editor figured that would be too offputting for an aspirational but anxious audience.

    • My copy of Les Halles is from 2004 and is a first printing, so you may be right. It’s very chatty and definitely geared to the home cook. I wonder if he and Julia Child ever met in real life. If so, I would imagine it would be impossible for a third person to get a word in edgewise.

      • I was wondering if there was a technical reason to use a blender v. an immersion blender, as using the handy stick blender would certainly be easier.

        • I think for two reasons. 1., people are much more likely to have a blender than an immersion blender, and 2. it’s possible that the potato/leek combo might defeat the stick blender. I don’t know, I’ve only used our blender to do this. Our blender is a warhorse. I am reminded that I haven’t made blender drinks in a while so maybe over the weekend I’ll fill it with ice and make very alcoholic slushies.

  2. I would slurp up all of Anthony Bourdain’s vichyssoise.

  3. I have trouble getting my mind around cold soup. I like potato soup. I’m wary of vichyssoise. I like tomato soup. I’m wary of gazpacho.

    This recipe sounds like it’d be nice warm. Why does anyone choose cold soup?

    • They’re good in the summer, I think. I won’t be tucking into a big bowl of beef stew anytime soon, I’ll tell you that.

    • Cold soups can be really refreshing.  I think of them as a liquid salad.

  4. I like warm vichyssoise. Maybe that’s just cream of leek and potato?

    • Pretty much. I think the addition of the nutmeg might be a Bourdainism, but I don’t have the strength to look up the Julia Child recipe, which probably follows the most traditional method.

    • Ah, I remember my aunt used to make pretty much this recipe but serve it warm and call it pottage.

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