Mild, Sweet, Tender Leeks Are Winter Soup’s Best Friend

David King’s piping-hot version of Potato & Leek Soup is just the ticket for winter.


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Add olive oil to keep butter from burning, and for a thick puree to serve as a base, use less stock.

Lori Eanes

They are as common and ancient as the humble onion, but somehow leeks have won a reputation in this country as the more well-to-do branch of the allium family.

Maybe it’s their refined shape—a polished, rolled-up cylinder of creamy-white layers that fan upward into stiff, symmetrical, deep-green leaves. Or maybe it’s because, as the royal symbol of the country of Wales, their likeness adorns Welsh military hats and was embroidered—along with Scottish thistles and English roses—on Queen Elizabeth’s coronation gown.

Whatever the case, leeks are nothing more than dressed-up onions—milder, sweeter, subtler, sure, but with the same down-home tang that can flavor everything from robust country cooking on up to the fancy-French-sounding vichyssoise—which is really just potato-leek soup served cold.

Chef-owner David King of Oakland’s Hutch Bar & Kitchen knows that in winter, it’s the rustic, nourishing, piping-hot version that’s just the ticket, especially when local leek crops begin to peak.

“Potato-leek soup is something anybody can do at home, and it’s super satisfying for the colder months,” said King with a touch of his native Memphis accent.

King recommends shopping local farmers markets for smaller leeks, which are typically sweeter. Patient, in the way only a Southern chef can be, King coaxes flavor from his leeks with a slow, steady hand.

“It takes some time,” he explained. “You don’t want your flame to be too high. And I like to have a generous amount of white wine on hand, for splashing.”

Once softened and seasoned—“I’m from the South, I hit everything with salt,” said King—tender, cooked leeks are then blended with potatoes and stock to the desired consistency. Keep the mixture thick to use as a base for any kind of protein—a piece of local trout or halibut or maybe sliced pork loin. Add more stock and maybe cream and you have a comforting soup that’s also a blank canvas.

“You can shave some cheese over it or crisp some bacon in the oven and crumble it on top,” said King. “You could toast any kind of nut—maybe pecans—and crush and add them.”

King advised great care when washing leeks. At Hutch, they slice leeks first, then plunge them into cold water to flood out dirt and grit. Remove leeks carefully from the gritty water to drain. Another method is to keep the base intact, slit the leek vertically, and pry the layers open like a fan, then plunge or run under cold water. Only the white and lighter-green portions of leeks should be used; slice off and discard the base with roots and upper, dark green leaves, and chop the rest.

Hutch Bar & Kitchen, 2022 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-419-0622, HutchOakland.com

 

David King’s Roasted Potato & Leek Soup

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon light olive oil (not extra virgin)

2 tablespoons butter

2 ribs of celery, sliced on a bias

6 leeks: white and light green parts only, sliced on a bias; rinse thoroughly under cold water and drain

2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat of a chef’s knife

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

1 cup white wine

6 cups chicken broth (substitute vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)

1 bay leaf

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: crumbled bacon, roasted pecans, chopped chives, shaved sharp cheddar cheese

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss potatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper lightly, and roast until potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes. Set aside. Melt butter and olive oil in pot large enough for all ingredients over a medium heat. Add celery, leeks, and garlic, and cook, stirring, until leeks are tender, about 10 minutes. Add thyme and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add white wine to deglaze, stirring until liquid is reduced by half. Add stock and bay leaf and increase heat to bring to a simmer. Remove the bay leaf and add the roasted potatoes. Using a blender, purée the warm soup in batches and return to the pot. Add heavy cream and heat through. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. Garnish with crumbled bacon, roasted pecans, chopped chives, and/or shaved cheese. Serves 6.

 

Published online on Feb. 10, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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