“Summer is my favorite time of year!” said no one in my Texas family, ever. Which might explain why my parents appreciated the cooling serenity of chilled soups in the summer and wanted me to enjoy them too. When I was only 5 or 6, they introduced me to vichyssoise at one of their favorite San Antonio restaurants: the wonderful (but gone now, sadly) La Louisiane. (Read a 2015 article about it from the San Antonio Express-News here.)
That restaurant bears much of the responsibility for beginning my lifelong love affair with food. Going there as a little girl was a huge treat for me, and created some of my fondest food memories. We introduced Katie to La Louisiane when she was quite small and she dove wholeheartedly into all of it. Except for the vichyssoise. What can I say? She takes after her father.
I was in my 20s before I took a stab at making vichyssoise myself. By then I’d eaten it at many other restaurants, and knew that it could vary wildly. Too much of what I had after La Louisiane’s was thin and oddly flavorless. So I played with recipes from a number of sources until I came up with a version that pleased me. I hope it pleases you too.
In a large saucepan or medium stockpot, melt over low heat:
5 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 medium yellow or white onions, thinly sliced
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced (see Notes on Leeks below)
½ tsp. salt
Toss all together to mix. Then cover and cook gently for 20 minutes or until vegetables are well-softened. Then add to the pot:
5 c. chicken broth (a good prepared broth, not too salty, is fine)
3 large, floury potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (I like russets)
½ tsp. salt
a few dashes of white pepper
Bring heat up to a simmer and cook until potatoes are very soft (about another 15-20 minutes of cooking after the soup simmers). Stir it occasionally; thinly sliced potatoes can stick together. Remove from heat and set aside until the soup is cool enough to put in a blender.
Once the soup has cooled sufficiently, blend it (you’ll probably need to do it in batches) to a smooth consistency. Transfer to a large tureen or other container suitable for the refrigerator. Then stir in:
1 c. milk (whole or 2%)
2 c. Half & Half
1 tsp. salt
a few dashes of white pepper
Cover and refrigerate the soup until it’s completely chilled. If you can wait 24 hours before adding the final ingredients below and then serving it, the flavor will continue to improve. (I’m terrible at waiting that long.) When ready to serve, add:
1 c. Half & Half
½ c. heavy cream
salt to taste (I add about 1 tsp. more)
white pepper to taste
Serve cold and sprinkle each serving with snipped fresh chives. Unless you don’t (see General Notes below).
Notes on Leeks:
• Cleaning the leeks is the most tiresome part of the prep, but it’s also the most essential. I start by cutting off the dark green, fibrous tops, then looking in the center of each. If there’s a pale green, delicate core, I save it to use. The rest of the tops go in the trash. Yes, there’s probably a use for those trimmings, but it isn’t worth my time and water to wash them.
• Then closely trim off the root end and, if the leeks are *ahem* old and thick through the middle, peel off and discard the wrinkly outer white layer. If they’re young and thin, you might need 4 instead of 3. Next comes the cleaning. Leeks are filthy, and nothing ruins silky, pale greenish-white soup like finding a mudslide in the bottom of the cup (or worse, on the spoon you’ve just removed from your mouth).
• Cut the remainder of the stalk in half lengthwise. Working with one half-stalk at a time, hold it under gently running water and peel back the layers, one at a time, and rinse, rinse, rinse. Sometimes the dirt is so engrained that you’ll need to scrape it off with a fingernail or paring knife. (Some recipes tell you to put them in a bowl of water and swish them around. Sorry, but that won’t get it all.)
• Once you’re satisfied with their cleanliness, turn the stalks upside down on a paper towel to drain until you’re ready to slice and cook them. Here are the cleaned stalks. I’ll trim a little more of the dark green from a couple of them before slicing.
• If the idea of chilled leek and potato soup is abhorrent to you (as it is to Glen and Katie), heat it up. If you serve it hot, you could throw grated cheddar, bacon bits, chives and fresh ground black pepper on it and call it (somewhat misleadingly) Baked Potato Soup.
• No fresh chives? Use sliced green scallion tops.
• This recipe makes a lot of soup. Because of the dairy products I wouldn’t be comfortable freezing it, but you can certainly halve the quantities. It’s flexible, so just guesstimate on, for instance, the potatoes. Use 2 medium ones instead of 3 large, etc. It will still be delicious.
• I like to salt it at each stage rather than trying to get it right all at once. The flavor changes subtly with refrigeration and with time.
• A large tureen is pretty for serving at the table, but unless it’s a party, I serve from the kitchen these days. The stockpot I cook it in is large enough to hold everything through the final step. It also, conveniently, fits in the fridge.
• If you want a thinner soup, add milk (whole or 2%) after the final step until it’s the consistency you prefer, then adjust the seasoning. And remember too that one person’s large potato is another person’s ginormous potato. The bigger they are, the thicker the soup will be.