“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: It is the time for home.” - Edith Sitwell
Although it was a mild day today, and we even had some sunshine, I did not get much of a chance to enjoy it as I was very busy at work. I spent the whole day in meetings, on the telephone, talking to staff, and answering a bumper number of emails. By the time I got home, it was already dark and it had started getting cooler. It was good to enter a warm house and be greeted by the aroma of dinner cooking.
There is nothing better during winter than a hot soup. It warms one up, revives and refreshes while being tasty and nutritious. Here is a recipe today that foots that bill very well. A classic Potato and Leek Soup, also called “Vichyssoise”. There is much debate as to whether this is a French or an American recipe, and the battle of origins across the Atlantic still rages!
Jules Gouffé (1807 – 1877) was a renowned French chef and pâtissier. He created a recipe for a hot potato and leek soup, publishing a version of it in his “Royal Cookery” of 1869. He was nicknamed: L’ apôtre de la cuisine décorative (The apostle of decorative cooking). He had a deep influence on the evolution of French gastronomy by gathering an immense knowledge which he wrote down in his Livre de Cuisine and his Livre de Pâtisserie.
His learning began under his father’s supervision who owned a pâtisserie in Paris. Gouffé became Antonin Carême’s pupil at the age of 16. He remained with this teacher for seven years. In 1840 Gouffé opened a shop in Paris, which would soon gain fame. He sold the shop in 1855 and then became inactive. In 1867 he accepted an offer from Alexandre Dumas and the Baron Brisse to become chef de bouche of the Jockey-Club de Paris. While he held this position he began writing books that would ensure him renown and posterity. Most of his works have been translated into English by his brother, Alphonse Gouffé, Head Pastry Cook to Queen Victoria.
Julia Child maintains that Vichyssoise is an American invention and Louis Diat, a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, is most often credited with its popularisation. In 1950, Diat told New Yorker magazine: “In the summer of 1917, when I had been at the Ritz seven years, I reflected upon the potato and leek soup of my childhood which my mother and grandmother used to make. I recalled how during the summer my older brother and I used to cool it off by pouring in cold milk and how delicious it was. I resolved to make something of the sort for the patrons of the Ritz.”
The same article explains that Diat’s soup was first titled crème vichyssoise glacée. Diat named it after Vichy, a town not far from his home town of Montmarault, France. This is the classic iced version. I must admit that I am no fan of cold soup so my sympathies lie with the original hot French version.
Hot Potato and Leek Soup
1 large leek
3 spring onions
2 tbsp butter
1.5 litres chicken stock
3 large potatoes
8 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mace
8 tsp chives
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
500 mL milk
- Peel and roughly chop the onions.
- Trim off all the dark green part of the leek and spring onions and discard.
- Split the remaining part of the leeks and spring onions in half from top to bottom.
- Carefully wash out any mud and dirt (otherwise they are gritty) and finely shred the leek and spring onions.
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into cubes.
- Gently fry the onions and leek in the butter until they are soft.
- Add the stock and potatoes. Simmer the soup for an hour and blend it to a puree.
- Add the milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg and mace.
- Simmer the soup for another twenty minutes.
- Ladle the soup into eight small bowls.
- Snip the chives finely.
- Add a tablespoon of heavy cream and a teaspoon of chives to each bowl.
- Serve hot!