Monday, October 4, 2010

Necks and Leek and Potato Soup

Photo on Left: Reka Nyari's "My Neck" {posted with permission}

I look at necks differently now.

I see necks without scars
And remember when I didn't worry about my health.
When I took it for granted.

I have a scar on my neck.

In the checkout line at the grocery store,
I glance at people's necks
instead of the display of celebrity magazines.

Some are old.
Some are strong.
Some are wrinkly.
Some are taut.

I find myself laughing
with my head back
exposing my neck,
and then embarrassed
and vulnerable
I hide.

I'm searching.
For understanding.
For acceptance.
For a voice.
For life.

Today I wear cancer on my neck.
Someday I'll just wear a scar.

What could be more soothing than a velvety, smooth, deliciously flavoured soup awakening your taste buds and then gliding down your throat to fully satisfy those hunger pangs?

To say that some like it hot may cause one to think of the 1959 Billy Wilder movie of the same name starring Tony Curtis who died last week (September 29, 2010). However, in this case, I’m referring to Leek and Potato Soup, sometimes known as Vichyssoise (vi-shē-swäz), a thick soup made of puréed leeks, potatoes, cream, and water (or sometimes chicken stock). It is traditionally served cold but – some like it hot. I am one of those who prefer my soup hot. But this versatile soup can be served either hot or cold, on its own, or as a sauce over seafood.

The origin of this soup has been debated. It is generally agreed that a French chef born in a town near Vichy in France was the first creator of this soup. French chef Jules Gouffé published a recipe that included potatoes, leeks, chicken stock, and cream in a cookbook entitled Royal Cookery in 1869. In this cookbook, the chef recommended that it be served hot. Another form of this recipe appears even earlier under the name Potage Parmentier, after a man named Antoine Auguste Parmentier who returned from a German prison-of-war camp after the Seven Year War (1756-1763) and, noting the sad plight of his people, set up potato soup kitchens in the city of Paris to feed the poor.

This soup became popularized in America, at the Ritz Carlton hotel in New York City. Louis Diat was chef at this hotel for the first half of the 20th century.

"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."
- Diat in the New Yorker magazine (1950)

The article goes on to say that the soup was first called crème vichyssoise glacée but when the restaurant’s menu changed from French to English in 1930, Diat named his invention after Vichy, a town near his home in France.

• It’s important to clean the leeks thoroughly. Since they are covered in sandy soil as they grow, sand can easily get embedded into the leek. Gritty sand is not a pleasing addition to this smooth soup so be sure to take the time to wash the leeks very carefully.

• Do not overcook the leeks since that will cause them to lose their brilliant, green color.

At Le Cordon Bleu
For one of the practicals at Le Cordon Bleu, we had to make Potage Julienne d'Arblay, which is a version of this classic leek and potato soup. The hardest part of this practical was cutting the carrots, turnips and leeks into julienne. The length of my turnips were shorter than my carrots, so I lost marks on that. As well, I over-salted my soup. And I sautéed my croutons in too much clarified butter so when I presented my dish to the chef, he pressed a crouton in his fingers and showed me all the butter left on his hands. I thought that the more butter, the better!

Recipe for Leek and Potato Soup

Serves 6

30 g butter
150 g leeks, white parts only
500 g potatoes
750 ml water

50 g carrots
50 g turnips
50 g leeks, white parts only
50 g butter plus 50 g clarified butter

3 branches chervil (you could use parsley)
50 ml cream
50 g white bread slices

While you're preparing the soup, clarify butter in a bain marie.

Clean the leek. Slice into ½ inch thin slices. Put some aside for the garnish.

Melt 50 g butter in a pot. Sweat the leeks in the butter, about 2 minutes or until translucent.

Peel and chop potatoes. Add the potatoes to the leeks. Add water to just cover the potatoes, about 500 ml. The water should be just above the potatoes. Bring to a simmer (mijoter). Salt a bit.

Prepare the garnish. Julienne the carrots, turnip and leek. Cook each vegetable separately. Heat some butter, add a touch of water, the vegetable and a dash of salt. Cover. (This technique is called Étuvé.) Cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove vegetable to a separate bowl and cook the next vegetable the same way. Mix all vegetables together at the end.

Check to see if the potatoes are cooked. A knife when inserted should pull out easily. Put the soup through a food mill. Check the consistency and add some water if it's too thick. Add cream and heat. Check the seasoning. Pour through a chinois or strainer. Cover with plastic wrap.

Make the croutons. Cut the bread into cubes. Sauté in clarified butter until golden brown. Drain on paper towel.

Pour soup into a bowl and garnish with vegetables, croutons and chervil.

Tasting Notes
For such a few ingredients, it's amazing how complex this soup tastes and how tricky it can be to make perfectly. But when done well, it's a favorite and can be jazzed up with other ingredients such as bacon, garlic or curry. Just don't add too much salt!

Reka Nyari: website and portfolio
Jan von Holleben: portfolio of necks

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    Mary said...

    Thank for you this post. Your neck is beautiful and strong. I am from a family of cancer survivors and this picture means a lot to me.

    foodiePrints said...

    Potato and leek soup is such lovely seasonal fare for Autumn.

    I think I'll try your recipe and add it to my Thanksgiving menu.

    As always, I enjoyed your inspiring prose my friend!

    Take care! :)

    Lynda said...

    I was very moved by your neck photos and your poem. I am sending you healing thoughts. Thank you for being so open and sharing your pain. "Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars." Kahlil Gibran

    Kayte said...

    Every time I julienne veggies, I think of you and Whisk! Now, the next time I am in line at a grocery store, I will look at necks and think of you...and how much I admire your outlook and courage. Hugs for you always.

    kellypea said...

    Your words and photo are exquisite, and evoke so many emotions. My neck is 54 years old and I think about those years and their marks quite a bit these days, trying to embrace who I am at this point in my life. Best to you...