Potato leek soup is the Swiss army knife of all soups. It’s extremely versatile and simple to make, allowing you to customize to fit your tastes and dietary needs. Every element can be modified: puree or don’t puree; use water or use stock; use milk or cream or no dairy at all. Whatever decisions you make the soup will still taste amazing. That is the simple beauty of potato leek soup.
This soup, though born in a modest farmhouse, has graced the tables of many a fancy restaurant. In the old days, potato-leek was more commonly called soupe bonne femme or ‘good wife’ soup. French American chef Louis Diat introduced a cold version called vichyssoise in 1917. He claimed he invented the soup near Vichy, France with his brother. What he neglected to mention to his adoring fans was that he got the recipe from his mother, though she served it hot. Traditionally soupe bonne femme was served unpureed and garnished with croutons made from leftover bread fried in oil. This soup is so flexible, you can garnish it with literally anything. I even have used leftover cacio e pepe.
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People Don’t Eat Methods – They Eat Results
Potato leek soup is nothing more than potatoes and leeks slowly cooked in butter, moistened with a liquid, simmered for a short period then served hot. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from an early mentor, chef Louis Szathmary. One day I was cooking something while he sat on his stool near me. I could tell he was focusing on me even though several other cooks were busy cooking as well. At one point he started laughing at the elaborate methods I was employing. He looked over and said, ‘people don’t eat method – they eat results.’ It is a line I have never forgotten.
Most versions of potato leek soup start with melting butter in a large Dutch oven over low heat. Your first choices come in here where you add various members of the allium family (leeks, garlic, onions, etc.). Although classically only leeks are used, I love to add both garlic and chopped onions. But suit yourself. Use what you like. Slowly cook the leeks (and garlic and/or onions) covered in the pan over low heat until they are soft and shiny, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add some chopped potatoes and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked just a bit. Moisten with water and/or chicken stock. You can use beef stock or vegetable stock if you prefer, it really will not matter much in the end. Cover and let simmer over medium heat until the potatoes are falling apart, about 20 minutes.
You could use milk or cream in place of some of the liquid in the soup. The French love to complicate names so technically the soup becomes potage bonne femme with the addition of milk and creme bonne femme with cream.
Variations on a Theme
Potato leek soup is a veritable chameleon in the kitchen. Being adaptable is a useful trait, especially desirable during the covid-19 quarantine. The first day I made the soup I had no croutons to use as a garnish so I looked deep into my refrigerator and found remnants of a cacio e pepe I had made a few days early. I chopped the leftover pasta up and tossed it into the soup – it was fabulous. We ate potato leek soup 2 more times that week when I finally got to the last meal’s worth. I grated some cheddar cheese and added herbs to retool it into a bowl of cheese soup. My family loved it.
Here are some of my favorite variations:
Vichyssoise: Chill your pureed soup. Garnish with a spoonful of creme fraiche or sour cream, chopped chives, and even a few potato chips. If you want to get luxurious you could add a tablespoon of caviar.
Cultivateur: Do not puree. Try adding any vegetables or even canned beans you have aging in your home. I particularly like adding carrots, cabbage, and maybe even green beans. There are no wrong answers here. I know this will sound crazy to some but try floating a poached egg in there too.
Solferino Soup: Add 3 tomatoes along with the potatoes and finish as normal like the classic version.
Classic Potato – Leek Soup: Puree and add a touch of heavy cream. Garnish with croutons fried in olive oil or butter.
Here is my base recipe, give it a try this week. I am sure this soup will become an instant family favorite.
Potato Leek Soup
Nothing is as satisfying as a simple and homey Potato Leek soup. It is a chameleon in the kitchen. Puree it, don't puree it. Use chicken stock, use water, use milk, use cream - your choice. Garnish it any way you like. Give this healthy soup a try this week.
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 sweet onion peeled and diced
- 3 leeks use the white part only, diced and washed well
- 1 clove garlic mashed
- 8 ounces Yukon Gold potato peeled and diced
- 1 quart chicken stock or water
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 cup heavy cream optional
In a large Dutch oven over low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, leeks, and garlic and cook covered until the vegetables are soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and stock, then bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer covered for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add cream if you want it richer. Carefully puree in a blender if desired.
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