Vichyssoise

Chop two leeks – just the pale part; toss the tough ends, which always come with the leeks and make them hard to stuff into your vegetable drawer but are inedible.

In a big pot, and I mean big enough to fit your head, melt a quarter cup of butter on medium. Yes, a quarter cup, and yes, butter. If you can’t eat butter, use olive oil, but by no means are you to use margarine. Especially avoid any product that has the words healthy, lifestyle, and/or choice on the package.

Toss in the leeks. Smash, peel, and mince a clove of garlic. Toss that in too. Stir it as it fries. Don’t let it burn.

Chop into reasonably small pieces about a half pound of bacon. Yes, bacon. I know it’s not in the original Vichyssoise recipe. I don’t actually care. Bacon is yummy and it works great with this. I especially prefer the Danish kind.

Look, if you’re going to be all on about tradition and authenticity, I think you need to know that this soup was invented at the Ritz Hotel in New York City about a century ago. Yes, the chef who invented it, Louis Diat, was French, and yes, he based it on a soup his mother and grandmother made. But they served it hot. He added cream and made it cold. And there are currently quite a lot of variations on it. I don’t know about you, but I eat for enjoyment, not ethnography. So, unless you can’t eat bacon, put that bacon in there.

Fry the bacon with the leeks and garlic. Toss in a bit of thyme. You can really add whatever herbs you think will flavour it nicely, but don’t go crazy. Heed the advice of Annie Wei-Yu Kan about emptying your spice cupboard. If you use bay leaves, take them out before blenderizing the soup. They make nasty little flakes otherwise. But just a bit of thyme is sufficient in my view. Also some black pepper, but not too much. You can also add that later or even grind it on your soup fresh when you serve it. Or skip it if you don’t like it.

And you won’t need to add salt. Trust me.

While that’s frying, wash and dice a pound and a half of potatoes. Notice I did not say peel. Just cut out any eyes or dodgy bits. The peel adds flavour, texture, and vitamins, and removing it is a waste of good food and good time. What kind of potatoes? Pick your favourite. Russet should be nice. Yukon gold could be pretty good too. Heck, you could even use purple ones if you want. I really don’t know what kind of potatoes they grow around Vichy. You know, where Diat grew up – actually, he grew up in Montmarault, but Vichy was the nearby big town, so he used the adjectival form of that for the name. Vichy is in the Auvergne, right in the heart of France.

Pour in four cups of chicken stock (vegetable stock is in my view an acceptable substitute; don’t use beef stock, you don’t want your soup to taste like gravy) and toss in the potatoes and get them boiling. While that’s going on, let’s return to the whole Vichy thing for a moment. The name of the town may sound like fishy but don’t confuse Vichyssoise with bouillabaisse. You’ve probably seen Vichy on some skin care products. This is because Vichy is a spa resort town. Another place you may have seen it is in World War II history. Vichy is where the Nazis set up their occupation government of France. The word Vichyssoise may even make you think of Vichy swastika, but that is not where the name of this soup comes from, and I’d better not see anyone sending around emails saying this is Nazi soup. In fact, some chefs tried to change the name of it in the 1940s so it wouldn’t be associated with the Nazis. But it was already well established.

Now add some fresh peas. I mean, yes, you can use frozen ones, but if you happen to shop somewhere where they sell nice half-pound bags of fresh peas, I’d go with those.

Yes, I know peas aren’t an original ingredient of Vichyssoise. See above about I don’t care. You don’t have to add them, but I like the effect. And it gets you your greens so this soup is a meal all in one. Some people use leafy greens instead. I don’t happen to like that as much, but whatever you fancy.

Cook that all until the potatoes and peas are soft. Let it start cooling and then add at least a cup of whipping cream. Yes, the full 35% fat kind. Do not wimp out on this. If I hear you’ve been adding whole milk, I’ll send someone to scratch your fridge with their car keys. If I hear you’ve been adding skim milk, I’ll come over and do it myself. And while I’m there I’ll pour some cream in your Vichyssoise so you can actually enjoy it.

If you’re a vegan, by the way, I’m really sorry to hear that, and there’s not a whole lot you can do to match up to the flavour of the cream, but maybe you could throw in some oil or shortening to up the fat content. You’re really going to need it, since you haven’t added the bacon.

Now here comes the part that really makes the name Vichyssoise appropriate. In batches (unless you have an incredibly large blender), purée it in your blender. You will hear the blender, as it slowly sucks the liquid down into a V and then a y and then swirls it as ss and s, make the sound “Vichyssoise.” That’s like “vish ee swaz.” Don’t forget that final /z/. This word is spelled with an e after the last s, so you know that the s isn’t silent.

Make sure, after you’ve emptied the last blender-full into whatever you’re going to refrigerate the soup in, to stir the soup so it is of uniform consistency.

Now chill it.

You may find that it is of a very thick consistency when it’s fully chilled. If you don’t like this, add some more cream or a little cold chicken stock when you serve it. But just because it’s soup doesn’t mean it has to be runny. It’s not like you’re going to try to drink it through a straw.

Top it with chopped chives when you serve it. Unless you forgot to buy any.

What wine to have with it? I think it will play nicely with any of a variety of whites, especially of the chardonnay or riesling sort. Perhaps a nice Mâcon. They also make some nice chardonnays in the Auvergne. Be leery of overoaked chards such as you may get from some American or Australian producers; between that and the soup you could be found on the floor in a stupor.

Because, honestly, this soup is killa. Your eyes will spring out of your head. It’s not vicious – it’s just possessed of a certain virtuous richesse.

6 responses to “Vichyssoise

  1. My favorite post so far! Deeelicious. Thank you very much. 🙂

  2. The peel adds flavour, texture, and vitamins, and removing it is a waste of good food and good time.

    Flavour and texture, yes, but not vitamins. There’s a lot of fibre in potato skin, but not many nutrients.

    Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope says that potato skin
    consists mostly of dead cells filled with a waxy, largely vitaminless substance whose chief function is to protect the potato’s insides. However, skin does keep vitamins from being boiled off during cooking. A baked potato with skin intact has almost all its original vitamin C, whereas a potato that has been peeled and boiled retains only 50-80 percent.

    The Washington State Potato Commission confirms:
    Despite the popular notion, the majority of nutrients are not found in the skin, but in the potato itself. Nonetheless, leaving the skin on the potatoes retains all the nutrients, the fiber in the skin and makes potatoes easier to prepare.

    So, there are good – even excellent – reasons to include the skin (including, as you said, flavour and texture). Just not nutrients or vitamins.

  3. I happened to open this email during my lunch break. You are a cruel, cruel man to cause my olfactory glands to actually smell the bacon and garlic frying up while I am staring at my cold cheese sandwich and carrot sticks. I will simply have to close my eyes and pretend that I really am engulfed in a warm cloud of grandmother’s kitchen aroma and to heck with the carrot sticks.

  4. We tried your recipe (We = wife; I can’t cook) and I have to say that, while I admit to being a bacon fanatic, half a pound is too much in a cold soup. Wife couldn’t eat it at all.
    Next step: heat it up in the microwave.

    • Hmm. Maybe use a little less bacon… a half pound was an estimate, but it may have been high-side. On the other hand, I actually used a whole pound of peas, which is nice, but makes it very thick indeed.

  5. Pingback: coup de grâce | Sesquiotica

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