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Julia Child’s Vichyssoise for JC100

Potatoes and leeks for vichyssoise.

The idea that people would sit in their family rooms and watch someone cook food on television must have seemed very peculiar at one point. News, sports, and serialised drama all make sense on TV as the continuation of content from previous media but no one ever huddled around the ticker tape in a late 19th-century pub to learn whether a souffle had fallen or a cheesecake cracked. There were other trailblazers but no one is more responsible for making (the now dying art of) educational cooking shows popular than Julia Child.

From watching her on tv when I was a kid to cooking from her recipes as an adult Mrs. Child has been a big part of my culinary life for a long while. That’s why it was easy for me to say “yes” when the request came to join a food blogging promotion this summer that will commemorate her 100th birthday. Each week (this is the fifth) we’ve been sent one of the recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking along with an invitation to cook it and write about the experience.

Leeks sliced for vichyssoise.

Leeks sliced for vichyssoise.

But, to be honest, I’ve struggled with how to approach the recipes. In my experience they are better-explained and more well tested than many of their contemporary peers so adapting would border on heresy. (But, then of course, there was that post where I pitted Mrs. Child’s chicken liver mousse recipe against Gourmet Magazine’s (representing by Ruth Reichl) in a “showdown”.) This week I was hooked, though. The recipe is vichyssoise and I think that it’s worth taking a special look at because I have some interesting ideas about how to get it cool quickly and I was intrigued that a pressure cooker was offered as an alternate method.

I think the industry-standard way to get your soup to cool off as quickly as possible is to: 1. Fill your biggest sink with water and lots of ice; 2. Nestle your biggest metal mixing bowl into the icy water; 3. Pour hot soup into cold bowl and stir both the soup and the water around the bowl. The other trick that works is to fill a very clean resealable bag with ice and water, seal very tightly, put it into the soup, and stir around it. All these steps strike me as easier to pull off in a restaurant context. I only have one sink (in the kitchen at least) and at this time of year, what little ice my two trays yield is needed for drinks not filling sinks.

My solution is to put an appropriately sized pitcher in the fridge to cool before starting and then I fill the sink with really cold water and maybe a bit of ice and follow the stirring steps from above. Once the soup is as cool as conveniently possible it can go into the pitcher without cracking it and will only need a bit longer in the fridge to chill completely.

Why bother? Well, the lovely thing about this recipe is that it offers the pressure cooker as an option. And that way, you can have the hot soup ready in less than thirty minutes.

Julia Child’s Vichyssoise (Cold Leek and Potato Soup

Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. I’ve compressed the vichyssoise variation and the master recipe for Potage Parmentier into one recipe. My notes are in square-brackets and the introduction below the photo is mine.

One of the two best-known cold soups that because it uses up long-stored produce and can also be served hot stands with one foot in Spring and the other in Summer.

Yield: For 6 to 8 people.

  • 3 cups peeled, sliced potatoes [I may have opted to thoroughly scrub the skins rather than peeling them.]
  • 3 cups sliced white of leek [no one will gasp if make use of the parts that are truthfully light green.]
  • 1 1/2 quarts white stock, chicken stock, or [packaged] chicken broth
  • [at least a TB] salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup whipping cream
  • white pepper
  • 2 to 3 TB minced chives [I used parsley]
  • Either simmer the vegetables, stock, and salt together, partially covered, for 40 to 50 minutes until the vegetables are tender; or cook under 15 pounds pressure for 5 minutes, release pressure, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Puree the soup either in the electric [or immersion] blender, or through a food mill and then through a fine sieve.
  • Stir in the cream. Season to taste, oversalting very slightly as salt loses its savor in a cold dish. Chill.
  • Serve in chilled soup cups and decorate with minced chives.

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