Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where one man feeds the beast within by just straight up continually eating. I’m your lethargic Lycanthrope, Jon O’Guin. I was going to have today’s post delivered to you by my old rival Jacque LeRoque mostly as a way to find him, but he saw through the ruse and didn’t return my calls. Which is potentially for the best, because history is unsure if today’s dish is technically French at all, in a convoluted way that is made even more convoluted by the way I blunder through it. So let’s slip into Vichyssoise, and figure out why things are so sticky. OR, you can use the wonders of modern tech to say “fuck that noise, just give me the ‘ssoise”, and go straight to the recipe. But if you stick around, I promise you: things get weird.
It’s A Vichy Cycle
So, what the hell is Vichyssoise? It’s a fancy soup. And it’s named after NAZI COLLABORATORS, SO IF YOU EAT IT, YOU SUPPORT THE NAZIS
I know I’m supposed to think “Look at the size of that army”, but all I really think is “Why did they make the walkway so wide? Are they calling Hitler fat?”
Kidding, of course. Though less than you might think. Vichyssoise just means “(feminine noun) from Vichy”, a city famed as a spa and resort town…and for being the base of operations for “The French State”, the Nazi-collaborating government that ruled France after the German invasion during World War 2. Weirdly, they chose it BECAUSE of the first reason: See, Vichy had the second most hotels (and therefore the second ritziest accommodations) outside of the now German-held Paris. It also was pretty close to Paris, and had an extensive telephone system, because, again, it was a resort town that took reservations from all over the world. The government was kicked out of Paris and said “Alright, what’s the second most luxurious city around here then?”
“Well, I went to an opera in Vichy one time…”
”Was it nice?”
”The seats were comfortable.”
”Sold. Tell them we’re moving in.”
The soup was actual invented BEFORE the war. Maybe LONG before the war, technically. See, France has had a soup LIKE Vichyssoise for centuries. It was called potage a la Parmentier, a name you probably DON’T remember from our first Diner Month post of two years ago, because y’all were sleeping on our first theme month. (To be fai-uh, “Let’s learn about Diners” was a pretty dumb thing to try and sell as our OPENING MOVE.)
If you don’t remember, didn’t read it, and didn’t read it AGAIN when I linked it just now, Antonin-Auguste Parmentier was the original Pro-Potato stan in Europe: he gave potato flowers as bouquets to royalty, paid guards to guard potatoes with strict orders to “accept all bribes, and don’t lock the gate when you leave at night”, and generally served as Mr Potato-Head’s Hype-man in every way he could. He also invented modern refrigeration, drank with the Ben Franklin, and gave France the universal smallpox vaccine.
The reason is pretty easy to figure out: The soup has like, 4 ingredients, and one of them is potatoes. Seriously, it’s just Leeks, potatoes, dairy (we’ll get to that), and Chives for garnish. And water, technically, but I have it on good authority that ‘basics’ like that don’t count.
Then again, counting is pretty hard for your average basic. As is reading, talking, driving…
So, that’s a potage a la Parmentier. What, then, is a Vichyssoise? Well, it’s a soup of leeks, potatoes, dairy, and chives for garnish. And water, technically. …This is where things get messy.
How do we have two different soups that are the SAME? That is because, supposedly, A: As we cover so often on the site, Americans are bad at translating, and B: No one knows.
As a food researcher, the number of times I encounter the implied statement “And then nobody cared enough to write it down” or “And no one ever checked if that was true” is mind boggling.
There are apocryphal stories of Louis the XV, “The BORING Louis”, being afraid of poison, and having his potage a la Parmentier tasted by so many royal tasters that it was cold by the time he ate it. And Potage a la Parmentier is perfectly fine cold as well as hot. Supposedly, it was that fact that ‘created’ Vichyssoise.
You’re Hot and You’re Cold
The man most often credited with the dish is Louis Diat, who was head chef at the Ritz Carlton in New York. Supposedly, one summer around 1917 at the Ritz, Louis, who lived near Vichy as a boy, remembered his mother and grandmother’s potage a la Parmentier, and how he and his brother would pour milk into their bowls to cool the soup, how the dairy made the soup even better, and thought to himself “Man, what if I made something like that for these guys?” The result was “Crème Vichyssoise Glacée”, or, literally “Chilled Vichy Cream”.
To grasp the level of culinary ‘ingenuity’ going on here, imagine if someone made a bowl of tomato soup with cheddar cheese and croutons to replicate the experience they had dipping grilled cheese sandwiches into tomato soup as a kid. Now stop imagining it, because that is definitely already a pretty common idea, and one I may use for a future post, so don’t think too much about it now or you’ll spoil the surprise.
The trick is retaining the crunchiness of the bread. Maybe if we deep-fry it…
So the main difference, in as much as one existed, was that potage a la Parmentier (and, for the record, you don’t NEED the “a la”, so I am kicking myself for using the long form this whole time) is typically hot, and Vichyssoise is typically cold. Until someone in America thought “I like this soup, but I’d like it more if it wasn’t cold”, and someone in France heard “you know, in America, they serve this soup cold”, and both sides started doing both, so now you can eat either soup either way.
So Vichyssoise is a soup made by a French man, in America, to remind himself of his French childhood, with a new style, that then caught on back in France as well. And now I’ve gone cross-eyed. Luckily, this soup is easy as shit, so you don’t need eyes where we’re going.
I Beheld a Rider on a Pale Soup
The core of this soup, as can probably be guessed by the fact that there’s only 4 ingredients in it, is the interplay between the flavor of Leeks, and the flavor of potatoes. Now, it has apparently been almost 3 years since we cooked with leeks on the site, though we’ve made a few jokes at their expense in the interim, so let’s have a quick refresher: This is a leek.
I don’t know.
Seems a little Farfetch’d.
Leeks are aliums (meaning they’re part of the onion and garlic family), with a relatively mild taste and a fascinating texture. Leeks are kind of what would happen if celery and an onion had a kid: they’re long, and have these weird lines running through them. If you cut them open, you find they’re full of layered leaves.
Those leaves combine with the fact that leeks are grown basically sand to make the most irritating thing about them: they have to be cleaned thoroughly before cooking and eating, because the leek grows straight up through the sand, and might have it trapped literally ANYWHERE in the layers. The easiest way I’ve found to handle it is to slice the leek in half, slice/chop the halves, and then toss/float the chopped plant in a bowl of water.
I mis-sized this picture, but I’m seriously doing this at 3 AM, so think of this as “mega-information"
The leaves float, the sand sinks to the bottom, pull the leaves out and cook them. Boom boom boom.
Now, I mentioned leeks are part of the onion and garlic family. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise you that they taste a little like onions and a little like garlic. Which is why they go great with potatoes. Seriously, potatoes and aliums almost always get along. Think about it. Garlic Fries. Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Green Onions or chives on potato skins and baked potatoes. Caramelized Onions on Baked Potatoes. Etc etc. So it’s little surprise they get along here.
The recipe is, as noted before, stupidly easy. First, you take your sliced leeks and toss them in a pan with some butter.
You can kind of see the little lines in the leaves in this shot. They actually keep leeks pretty crisp in various cooking methods. Which makes them our ENEMY today.
You want to soften them up before you add the potatoes, just using medium-low heat to sweat the leeks. Now, if you wanted to be a Vichyssoise purist, you’d ONLY use the white parts of the leeks, in order to retain a purely white color. Personally, I don’t like only using half a vegetable, and I figured the light-green parts wouldn’t color the soup much by the end.
Once your leeks are sweated enough for your liking, add the potatoes, and 2 cups of liquid, and get that thing to 20 minutes of boiling.
It’s perfectly normal to feel like your potatoes are inadequate in this recipe.
It happens to plenty of chefs trying new cuisines.
Now, here’s where I tell you that you can tell ME to fuck off. My research into the potage a la Parmentier and Vichyssoise world has taught me that there’s a LOT of variation that goes into these soups. Some cooks add garlic, or thyme to the leeks. Some use water as the liquid, some use chicken stock. Some FINISH the dish with butter, some with cream, some with milk, whatever dairy they like. And of course, it can be served cold, hot, or warm, so when you look at my recipe, and how it turned out, feel free to experiment a little with it if you choose to make it yourself. Hell, even MY FAMILY didn’t stick to my recipe. You know, the one I was CURRENTLY MAKING?
My mother, having been told that we were having a smooth potato soup, decided that she wanted the soup to have ‘crunch’. Which isn’t a bad idea, of course. A little added texture is something to be commended. The WEIRD part was that she became insistent that the only logical SOURCE for this crunch was…pancetta. If you’ve forgotten, Pancetta is a form of Italian bacon, which, in my experience, tends to be a little chewier than it is ‘crunchy’. But she hunted down diced pancetta, and fried it as the pot bubbled, so more power to her.
Pictures of fried cured pork products are, unsurprisingly, pretty similar.
Once you think the potatoes are soft enough, it’s time for things to get dangerous. Not ALL that dangerous, but dangerous in a way that is specifically upsetting to me. Because this is, after all, a SMOOTH soup. And yes, you could, in batches, pour the soup into a blender and buzz it. But blending hot liquids can be dangerous, so the safer option is my third-oldest enemy: the immersion blender.
The first cut is the deepest.
Baby I know.
If you don’t know, or have forgotten, an immersion blender is responsible for my only lasting cooking-derived injury, and the source of the only really noticeable scar on my body, from where it CUT THROUGH MY FINGER TWICE. I’m not showing the scar, partly because I don’t want you to lose your appetite, and also because it’s not all that impressive.
As such, I get a little twitchy when I have to use them. Everything went fine, of course. Our pot of potatoes and leeks were a little thick, so we added extra chicken stock to get it moving, but within about 6 minutes, the soup was pretty smooth. At which point you add the cream, stir it all up, and serve it with chives, fried pancetta, and Nate and I choose to also top our bowls with crumbled garlic crostini, because if we’re adding toppings, why not go all the way?
I’d make a joke about adding a kitchen sink, but I literally ladled this out OVER the sink, so really, it’s spiritually part of it.
Taste-wise, I have to note that the addition of bacon and garlic really pushed what I can only suppose is meant to be an elegant French dish into basically a cheese-less Loaded Baked Potato Soup. And that’s not a bad thing. Seriously, the soup is delightful, with or without add-ons. Make it yourself, and try it hot, cold, clean, or loaded. No matter how you dress it, it’s a historical mess, and a tasty little catastrophe.
NO TIME FOR PLUGGING STUFF, I HAVE COMPANY COMING IN LIKE, AN HOUR, SO I HAVE TO GET THIS UP AND GET THE ROOM TIDYED. TALK TO YOU THURSDAY.
THURSDAY: JON EXPLORES WHAT MAKES FRENCH FOOD FRENCH, AS HE LOOKS THROUGH THEIR PANTRIES.
MONDAY: JON WHIPS UP SOMETHING RELATED TO THE SUPER-BOWL. HE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT, BECAUSE HE FUCKING THOUGHT THE SAINTS HAD IT IN THE BAG, SO HIS PLANS ARE ALL FUCKING SHOT.
Welcome to The:
3-4 tablespoons of butter
3-4 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and sliced
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into ½” cubes
2+ cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
¼ tsp white pepper (or normal pepper. People just use White pepper so it looks whiter)
4 chives, finely chopped (optional)
½ cup diced pancetta, fried crisp (optional)
1. IN a large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the sliced leeks, and sweat, tossing occasionally, for 5-10 minutes. Add ½ tsp salt while sweating to increase liquid production, and to season the leeks. Do not let them brown, you simply want to soften them.
2. Add the potatoes and more salt, and toss together, allowing to cook for 1-2 minutes.
3. Add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for roughly 30-40 minutes (You could also just boil the pot for 20 minutes, but this would cause more liquid loss.)
4. Once potatoes and leeks are very soft, remove from the heat, and process with an immersion blender for safety, or in a real blender, using very small batches and blending carefully, until smooth. Add more chicken stock if necessary.
5. Return to the heat, and stir in the cream, white pepper, and any additional salt or herbs you want to use. Bring back to a simmer, and serve hot, topping as desired.