It’s National Vichyssoise Day; a chilly November day and we will be honoring cold soup.
Something just isn’t right about this picture. Like Ice Cream Sundae Day, it should be during one of those scorching months of summer where appreciating a cold food is actually a fun prospect, not one to make you shiver.
Vichyssoise- say Vee shee swaz, or Veesh eee swaz– sounds like one of those incredibly complicated dishes that require time and focus, but in truth, it’s a simple potato leek soup that is pureed smooth and served chilled. There is nothing hard about it, nor time consuming. And it’s delicious in either form- hot and chunky (which food snobs would argue that it’s NOT Vichyssoise in that regard but I couldn’t care less about that) or smooth, silky and ice cold. Julia Child’s recipe was so simple that it didn’t even include chicken stock- it was just potato and leek simmered in water and seasoned with salt and pepper. You can’t get much simpler than that.
The origin of the soup is questionable in whether it’s genuinely French or an American creation. Both countries claim to be the first to produce the dish, but the credit is generally given to Louis Diat, a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City. He produced the soup based on a memory of his childhood where his mother and grandmother would make a potato leek soup and his older brother often poured milk into his bowl to cool it off. Diat thought the soup tasted wonderful and in the summer of 1917 he recreated it for the hotel patrons. Diat was French and his hometown in France was Montmarault, not far from the town of Vichy which became the moniker for his creation. The original menu at the Ritz was French, and the soup was named Creme Vichyssoise Glacee, then changed to Cream Vichyssoise Glacee. Other culinarian historians debate that the soup was first made by French chef Jules Gouffe and published in a French cookbook in 1859. Regardless of who can be credited with the invention, Vichyssoise has a reputation for high class finesse despite being little more than peasant food. Anthony Bourdain lists Vichyssoise as a catalyst for his lifelong passion with food; having been served the soup on a trans-atlantic voyage at the age of 9, he recalls falling in love with the “delightfully cool, tasty liquid.”
I really love potato leek soup, and the simplicity of the preparation. For added flavor, you can roast the potato and the leek until golden brown, then add them to simmering chicken stock. I love using Yukon Gold potato for this soup as it gives it such a gorgeous yellow tone, and eaten as a chunky version or blended smooth, it’s a perfect and soothing soup for a cold day as well as a delicious and light chilled soup in the midst of steaming July. The usual garnish is chives or parsley, and a tiny pat of butter in a hot bowl gives it a nice rich decadence. The milk or cream is entirely optional too; the soup is divine just plain. It’s one of those items where more is definitely not better.