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Julia Child's Vichyssoise

I adore Julia Child for many reasons.  My love affair with everything Julia began in days of yore - before computers, cell phones, and cable TV celebrity chefs.  In the 1970s, I flambéd my way through my junior year of college. Mastering the Art of French Cooking and a book of matches taught me more about experimentation than any science course I ever managed to barely pass.  Through several of her books and countless episodes of her cooking shows, I learned more valuable lessons than how to use a pastry bag or truss a chicken.  

Not too long ago, the social media world starting buzzing with news of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth.  I decided to participate in the festivities in my own way.  Occasionally I’ll join in the “Julia Child recipe of the week,” including vichyssoise (a chilled leek and potato soup) this week.  

vichyssoise cold soup ready to eat

But my real homage to her will be those times when I stop what I’m doing – in the kitchen, at the table, or elsewhere - and think about how much braver I am and how much more fun I have, when I think “what would Julia have done?”

Vichyssoise from Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a classic Julia Child’s recipe – simple and delicious.  Although it has only a few ingredients: the soup base (chicken stock), leeks, potatoes, whipping cream, salt and white pepper, and chives for garnish, I had to improvise. 

vichyssoise cold potato and leek soup ingredients
vichyssoise cold potato and leek soup

I forgot to get more chicken stock or a chicken (to make stock) from the store on my last trip - my solution was a combination of homemade vegetable stock from my freezer and 2 small (8 ounce) boxes of chicken stock I discovered hiding in my pantry.  I did have leeks, but not enough to use just the white parts as Julia specifies, so I included the light green part closest to the white part.

I know Julia is smiling down on me; she wouldn’t allow a less-than-perfect-array of ingredients to stymie her.  The soup is supposed to be white and my vegetable broth was darker than chicken stock.  That means my soup will not be as pristine white as it would have been with just chicken stock and the white parts of leeks, but that is hardly fatal.  I did have one more trick up my sleeve -  putting the hearty vegetable broth through a strainer lined with cheesecloth, so bits of carrot and black pepper won’t show up in my vichyssoise.  Julia would have approved of my cheesecloth purchasing strategy - I bought it at my local hardware store for a fraction of what it sells for at gourmet stores.

straining broth for vichyssoise cold potato and leek soup

Vichyssoise

This version (full recipe with ingredient amounts) has just 8 easy steps if you break down the instructions to their simplest level:

  • Clean the vegetables.  Tip – Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and wash the inside layers carefully and thoroughly.  Dirt often hides inside the leek.
  • Peel the potatoes.
  • Cut up the leeks and potatoes into small pieces, but don't be too concerned about the size of the pieces, as the soup will be puréed. 
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  • Simmer the vegetables in the broth/stock.    
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  • Purée the soup in a blender or food processor, putting it through a sieve to eliminate stray pieces if necessary.  Tip - Add only a small amount of the hot soup to the blender or processor and make sure the top is secure before operating it.  Spraying hot liquid across your kitchen will definitely make this recipe memorable, and not in a good way.
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  • Stir in the cream.
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  • Chill in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least several hours.  Tip - If you are impatient (as I am) or don't have enough time to chill the soup simply by refrigerating it, place the container - uncovered - inside a larger bowl filled with ice and water, then stir the soup carefully for 20-30 minutes, making sure you don't slosh it into the larger, ice-filled bowl.  You can even refrigerate the covered soup container in the larger ice-filled bowl if you ahve room in your refrigerator.  
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  • Before serving, season with salt and white pepper, and add optional garnish of chopped chives.  Tip - Julia salts the soup before it chills, but I’ve found that I can taste the salt more easily – and put less in - if I add the salt after the soup is cool.  

You can’t beat it on a warm evening.  Even if you don’t normally say grace before meals, if you make this vichyssoise (and I hope you will), take a moment and think of Julia Child’s infectious laugh and her enthusiasm for food and good company before you dig in. 

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