Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Whisk Wednesday Assignment #13, Part 2 -- Julienne Darblay (Creamed Leek and Potato Soup)

The Julienne Darblay was a wonderfully easy soup to make. It made the whole house smell deliciously of promises of dinner to come, which was confusing for my family, considering that I was cooking it at 5:30am on Thursday morning. But really, is there a bad time for your house to smell of simmering leeks and potatoes and bouquet garni, in a rich homemade chicken stock?

I don't think so either.

I had to make a number of executive decisions on this recipe, based on the fact that I am leaving for CousinFest for the next few days and I haven't yet packed a single cotton ball. Even though it's less than twelve hours until my husband and I meet Carol and transfer my cotton ball (and hopefully some other things as well, like a clean top to replace the one I will undoubtedly spill a cosmopolitan on) from our car to hers. I was working under pressure.

Julienne Darblay's most difficult task was doing the julienne, and I was pleased and surprised to discover how easy that was. Everything else consisted of cutting and washing the leeks (the recipe didn't call for the bits of dirt and sand that you can find in a leek's layers), dicing the potatoes and assembling the bouquet garni. The bouquet garni consisted of parsley, a bay leaf, thyme, celery and the green part of the leek: I used dried herbs and fresh celery and leek for mine.

The only part that stumped me about the soup was the potatoes. The recipe didn't specify if they were to be peeled or not. I hung over the sink for a moment with Le Cordon Bleu at Home at my left and a veg peeler at my right. To peel or not to peel? I remembered with sorrow the Billy Bi soup from last week that desperately needed the flavor from the mussels' juices; is there some essence of potato that I'd be missing in this soup if I peeled? On the other hand, the cookbook features a picture of the soup on page 132 and it was very light in color. The leeks and potatoes are puréed in a food processor after cooking to render a smooth, creamy texture and I had to wonder if that light color could be achieved if the skins of my lovely russets were part of the purée?

In the end, I chose to peel.

The leeks, potatoes, bouquet garni and chicken broth had to simmer together for about half an hour, so I left them to their business and practiced my julienne skills with a carrot and a leek green, observing that it's hard to cut anything when you buy your knives from the grocery's baking aisle for $7.99. I still do have all my fingertips -- but only because the knife isn't sharp enough to cut one of them off -- and moved on to the final stage of the soup.

The food processor.

I have an admission to make here: I don't own a food processor. When I told Kayte this a few months ago, she practically needed smelling salts. I fanned her energetically as she sat slumped in a chair and said in a weak voice, "You don't have a food processor? How do you cook?"

"Mostly from cans and boxes," I confessed. Which practically brought on a panic attack and I had to dial 9-1-1 on my mobile and stand there, still fanning, and waiting to see if I needed to press the Send button.

I do have a teeny little food mill that is fifteen years old. I know how old it is because I bought it to make baby food for Meelyn with. Many's the pea and peach I've whirled around in that handy little gadget, but the problem is that it holds about a cup of whatever you want to mill in it, and I had a good deal more than one cup of soup to handle.

However, no one's going to say that I'm not intrepid and ready to take on a challenge, especially from Le Cordon Bleu. Mine is not to question why and all that. So I got my soup pot, my food mill, a strainer and a clean bowl assembled and went to it.

My first surprise was that my bouquet garni had come undone and that little flecks of dried herbs were merrily bathing themselves in the broth. Oh, well....the soup was going to be speckly instead of one color and mirror-smooth, but what can you do? Other than strain the soup before milling it, which I wasn't inclined to do at 6:00am.

It took less time than I thought, and before long, I was rewarded with a lump of greenish potatoey-leeky stuff that looked very strange but smelled divine. My only problem here is that the silly stuff was too thick to strain and I was a little confused about the whole "pressing out the liquid and discarding the solids" thing that the book told me to do: It seemed to me that I'd be reducing the amount of soup from six or maybe eight servings down to about four. So I decided against the pressing.

"Le Cordon Bleu," I said. "You are not the boss of me. But only because I am not paying you a giant tuition, but instead purchased this book at a very reasonable price from"

The only thing left to do after that was return the soup to the pot and the heat, allow it to warm again, and then take out a small portion in a little bowl so that the cream could be stirred into that to avoid curdling the cream. At least that's what I'm assuming might happen. With a pint of store-brand heavy cream at $3.99, I wasn't about to just throw it into the pot and hope for the best.

The cream stirred into the soup pot easily, and although I didn't have the delightfully smooth look the picture in the book called for, it still looked pretty darned good. And again I have to return to the smell, which was better than you can imagine. No, better than that.

I got a small serving out of the pot and sat right down to sample. I have to say that this is one really delicious soup. I know that a lot of it is due to the stock, because the rich, chickeny-ness provided a good base for the flavor, layered by the mild potato and leek and still again by the combination of herbs. It evoked a taste and feeling of autumn, with soup in warmed bowls and homemade croutons floating on top... it was just sooo good.

Next week! Velouté Agnès Sorel (Cream of Chicken Soup) pages 444-445


Due to circumstances as far beyond my control as the rising and setting of the sun, I did not get a chance to make the Julienne Darblay soup today (or yesterday or the day before that), although I did make a lovely, golden pot of stock on Friday, which I froze, and bought all the groceries I needed except cheesecloth for the bouquet garni, that little bag of herbs which is so dearly beloved in French cooking, also which I cannot remember no matter how many times I walk through the doors of the market. Some brain cramp occurs and wipes "cheesecloth" right off my slate and puts "chocolate" there instead and now I have forty-seven bits of candy and no cheesecloth.

And no soup. Although I hopefully will have some here tomorrow, since the leeks are sitting hopefully in the fridge and the stock is defrosted and the potatoes are beginning to ask "Are we there yet?" every time I walk through the kitchen.


Ann said...

Loved reading youir adventures with this recipe! I didn't peel my potatoes-- and all of the little bits of processed skin came out when I strained it.


Kayte said... really know how to write these little adventures up well. I am eager to get home and make sounds fun just from reading yours.

You can boil the heck out of reduces it and makes it thicker the more you boil it. Milk doesn't do that...that is why they use cream in sauces, well that and the taste, I believe. Just thought I would pass that little tidbit along for you. I am feeling the need to be helpful.

I don't have my recipe book here in Bloomington with me...shocker, I know...but I was wondering if they referred to a technique page for the potatoes and if there was a photo on that page that showed how to do them and if maybe from that you could tell if they were peeled or unpeeled. Just a thought I will check it out when I arrive home and the chlorine fumes evaporate from my brain. This has been an incredibly LONG meet.

Love you post...I learned a lot from it. Thanks!

Shari said...

Again, your post is so enjoyable to read. I loved hearing about the smells wafting about your home at 6am! And I can just see you with potato in hand pondering the peel or no peel part. Cookbooks should be more clear, dontcha think?! Great job!
Shari@Whisk: a food blog