Simple, subtle and elegant, a bowl of vichyssoise provides an immensely satisfying component for a cool summer meal or enjoyed as a supper by itself.
Although the soup has a French heritage, vichyssoise has a definite American origin story. A chef working at the Ritz-Carlton in New York named Louis Diat created the soup in 1917, taking inspiration from the popular leek and potato soup of his childhood in France. In summers the soup would be served hot and cooled off by adding cold milk, and the first version Diat served from his kitchen was named Crème Vichyssoise Glacée after the town of Vichy, France, near his hometown of Montmarault.
The beauty of this soup arises from its sheer simplicity of ingredients: leeks, potatoes and dairy. The leeks bring a subtle herbal, vegetable flavor without the acidity of an onion, and using Yukon Gold thickens the soup as they break down with a creamy consistency. Of course, other potatoes will work such as the more popular russets but their starchiness may prove too thick for leftovers, leaving the soup more custard-like than liquid.
Other elements can be added for preference, as the base recipe lends itself well to improvisation. Almost any vegetable cooked well until soft can be added for color or flavor such as peas, asparagus, carrots, leafy greens, pumpkin or even more onions. It works particularly well with dry-roasted cauliflower or sweet potatoes, and can be finished with a few drops of olive oil, some minced chives, or even a few pieces of crispy ham.
Traditionally, vichyssoise is meant to be served cold but not icebox cold, so let it rest a few minutes after removing it from the refrigerator and before serving. Of course, it is also delicious warm (careful not to boil) for a hearty leek and potato soup.
4 Yukon Gold potatoes
2 c chicken stock
1 c milk
1 c half-and-half
2 T butter
1 Clean and chop the leeks (white parts only) and sauté in oil and butter over medium heat for about 10 min. Do not allow them to take on any color.
2 Peel and dice the potatoes and stir into the leeks. Cook for about 5 min more.
3 Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, over low heat for 30 min.
4 When cooled slightly, purée until smooth and return to the pot. (Add a few ounces of water or stock to thin, if necessary.)
5 Stir in the dairy and season to taste. Bring to a simmer for 5 min, then take off the heat.
6 Chill for several hours. Serve cold with minced chives.