Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Celebrating Julia Child
What’s cooking? Vichyssoise

Kitchen Goddess note to iPad fans: I’ve just purchased the Mastering the Art of French Cooking app, which I will review more extensively in another post. It’s only got 36 recipes, but each contains a complete clip – in color – of Julia herself cooking the recipe. So just for that, I give it 5 stars. 

I remember the first time I had vichyssoise. I had recently moved to New York, and my lack of sophistication was almost palpable. In spite of this flaw, I was treated to dinners at a number of the finest restaurants in the City. Not because I was adorable – though I was – but because my roommate was dating a married man, and he needed my presence on their dates to look innocent. And aside from the obvious fly in the ointment, he was a delightful dinner partner. Which is more than I can say for her.

So, hey – I needed dinner, and why not enjoy it at Le Pavillon or Lutèce or Le Grenouille?

The downside was that I had never been in a place where the menu was entirely in French, and my foreign language studies had consisted of eight years of Spanish. So I was at my host’s mercy to translate. He suggested at one of those establishments that I try the vichyssoise.

OMG. What an epiphany. I think that was the night I became a foodie. And of all the people who made vichyssoise accessible to neophytes like me, Julia Child is the leader.

A simple, easy to prepare soup that’s traditionally served cold but can as easily be served hot (without the cream, when it’s called Potage Parmentier), vichyssoise is a truly classic French dish. And among the most elegant ways to start a dinner party. In fact, it was my go-to appetizer course for more years than I can remember.

But for me, I just like to have some on hand for lunch. Especially in summer.

“Here is the mother of the family in all her simplicity. You’ll note there’s no chicken stock here, just water, leeks, potatoes, and salt in the soup base. However, you may include chicken stock if you wish, and you may certainly include milk. A bit of cream at the end is a nourishing touch, but by no means necessary. If you are not pureeing the soup, cut the vegetables rather neatly.” — Julia Child from The Way to Cook, Alfred A. Knopf.

Kitchen Goddess note: She’s so cute. Of course, you must purée the soup – well. For the color as well as the consistency. Other points I should make:

1. I recommend the chicken stock (or vegetable stock), and the cream at the end, which really give it a velvety consistency and a clean, bone-white color.

2. I use not just the white parts of the leeks, but also the very light green.

3. I serve with a sprinkling of chives on top, which I think is preferable to parsley. After all, this is a soup about the onion family.

4. Julia recommends using old or baking potatoes, so if you have potatoes that have been sitting around for a couple of weeks, this is the ideal use for them. Apparently, with age, the starch in potatoes begins to turn to sugar, which adds to the flavor.

5. You can construct endless variations on vichyssoise by adding different veggies to the leek/potato stew: a big bunch of watercress, or diced zucchini, or chopped asparagus stalks (saving the tips for garnish),... Use your imagination.


From The Way to Cook by Julia Child (Alfred A. Knopf)

4 cups sliced leeks, whites only
4 cups diced potatoes (old or baking potatoes recommended)
6 to 7 cups cold water
1½ to 2 teaspoons coarse salt or to taste
½ cup or more sour cream, heavy cream, or crème fraîche, optional
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives or parsley

Bring the leeks, potatoes and water to boil in a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan. Salt lightly, cover partially, and simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Purée the soup if you wish. Taste, and correct seasoning. After chilling the soup, you may wish to stir in a little more cream. Taste carefully again, and correct the seasoning. Top each serving with a sprinkle of chives or parsley.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


  1. A recipe and a story...what on earth could be better!?

    Eileen in Atlanta

  2. A great tip about old potatoes. Who knew?
    The first time I had vichyssoise, my soon to be mother-in-law made it. I was totally intimidated by cold soup. Which I now love.
    Great blog, as usual.