By Bill Dwyer
In last month’s column I referred to Vichyssoise as originating in France. Turns out I was mistaken. While researching for this month’s column I found out that, according to no less an authority than Julia Child, this delicious soup is “an American invention” – but one she approves. Further research revealed that Vichyssoise was first served to diners at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York in 1950 by the hotel’s French chef, Louis Diat. So France should get some credit for its creation, even though it originated in the U.S.
Diat based his recipe on a simple peasant soup made from potatoes. leeks and water (or chicken stock), a traditional country dish in France, the Low Countries, Britain and Ireland for generations. It was served hot, but Diat recalled that as a child when his mother served leek and potato soup in the summertime, he added cold milk to cool it. He based his famous creation on this childhood memory. To turn his creation into a gourmet dish worthy of the Ritz he tarted up the recipe a bit: the potatoes were peeled; only the white part of the leeks was used; and rich cream was added, so that the color of the soup would be a uniform creamy white. The soup was then puréed and chilled before serving. It is now made by chefs and home cooks everywhere (including France).
Here’s how to make your own Vichyssoise:
3 cups peeled and diced potatoes
3 cups sliced leeks (white parts only0
6 cups chicken stock
½ to 1 cup heavy cream (crema dulce) or sour cream (natilla)
salt and white pepper, to taste
chopped chives or parsley for garnish
Simmer the vegetables in the stock for 40 – 50 minutes. Purée the soup in small batches in a blender. Stir in the cream. and refrigerate until cold. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Serve in chilled soup bowls and garnish each serving.
This soup is very versatile because it is the base for many variations: add raw watercress 5 minutes before removing the pot from the heat. Purée. chill, and you’ve got watercress soup. Add cooked asparagus, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower or tomatoes before puréeing and serve hot or cold.
Next month: Gazpacho!