Who knew cold leek-and-potato soup could be so tasty – and so refined? This week I made a vichyssoise and it was delicious.
I love a cold soup on a hot day. My Barcelona trip had me yearning for a gazpacho, which has been my go-to chilled soup for years.
But now I’m rethinking that. The vichyssoise really hit the mark.
I found the recipe by chance in Rick Stein’s French Odyssey cookbook (available from Amazon and elsewhere). In it, he explains that when he was starting out in the 1960s, they used to serve this at the Great Western Hotel in Paddington, London, where he worked.
Thing is, they served it straight from a tin. It was assumed that as it came from France, it would be better than anything they could make themselves.
That’s a pretty sad indictment of British cooking.
After all, it’s really a rather simple soup to make. You take a kilo of leeks, some potato and an onion, slice them finely and then sweat them in some butter for ten minutes.
Then you add chicken stock, a little salt and pepper and simmer for half an hour. Finally, you liquidise, pass through a sieve, then add milk and double cream. Voilà.
Interestingly, there is some debate about whether this soup is actually French.
The French credit it to Louis XV’s chef. Afraid of being poisoned, the king had his servants taste his food first, which meant it was often cold by the time he came to eat it. Hence his hot leek-and-potato soup was cold.
The Basques also lay claim to it. They say that when the Spanish ambassador received a delegation from the Vichy government of France, his chef served a refined version of a traditional Basque soup, la porrusalda.
The Americans say that Louis Diat, a French chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, created it to remind him of his childhood. His mother and grandmother had served leek-and-potato soup, which he used to cool with milk.
I have no idea who’s right.
Rick Stein says that vichyssoise is far and away his favourite chilled soup. I think it might just have become mine too.