Monday, January 16, 2017

Vichyssois

A friend and I were recently chatting about cold soups. Most people immediately think of gaspacho, which I've never really cared for. There are very few soups meant to be enjoyed cold, but vichyssois (vee-she-swah) is in my mind the absolute king. A little bit of history here, but if you aren't interested in that, feel free to skip to the recipe below.

History

Despite what you would think, vichyssois is not, in fact French, but rather an American dish from about a hundred years ago. Back then, more or less any time you invented a new recipe, you would give it a French namesake (whether to honor where you were trained, the tradition you were trained in, to make it sound fancier and let you charge more...well, that's up to you.) if you didn't name it after where the recipe was invented (i.e. the Waldorf salad).

Now, it would be a bit much to claim that we in the US invented potato leek soup, which vichyssois is a varient of, but it is very, very different in character.

 In the 1980's, there was a big case of a couple who died of botulism from consuming canned vichyssois. Botulism toxin is one of the absolute deadliest toxins on earth- it would take about ten grams to kill every human being on the face of the earth. Funny thing is, it's destroyed by heat. So even today, people who hear about the death of this couple are mystified as to why they died. It's a canned soup, the only way it would have killed them were if they just ate it straight from the can.

Well, that's exactly what they did. Why? Because vichyssois is meant to be served cold, a fact which was explained on the label, that it could be enjoyed cold straight from the can.

 Now, I personally am repulsed at the idea of consuming a cold canned soup, but that's because canned soups are generally meant to be served hot and are slimy if they are consumed cold. For all I know, this vichyssois wasn't, but I really don't want to find out.

This does however prompt me to hammer home that vichyssois is as safe as anything else you cook in the kitchen. There aren't any inherent toxins to be destroyed, this was simply a case where the canning process failed and the food was contaminated from outside. So your home made vichyssois should be fine.

 Recipe 

Peel 6-8 large russet potatoes, and cut into quarters (or cut so that the pieces are roughly equal in size). Clean and chop roughly half that amount of leeks (make sure to slice lengthwise and clean out any dirt present). You absolutely can eat most of the green part of the leeks. Dump into a large pot and add water until the vegetables are just covered. Cover the pot and heat on a high heat until the potatoes are tender.

Now, this is a great opportunity to use that stick blender gathering dust in the back of your kitchen. Don't drain the vegetables, but instead blend the contents of the pot with the stick blender. If you do not have a stick blender, you can absolutely do this with a regular blender, but it will be a bigger pain in the butt.

Once the contents are blended, toss a cut up stick of butter in and stir until it has melted. Add salt and pepper to taste, then refrigerate the pot until cold (likely overnight). Once the soup is cold, add cream and stir. The color should be a pale green, which doesn't take all that much cream. Again, check your salt and pepper, and serve with a nice piece of buttered, freshly baked bread. This may be enjoyed for any meal of the day.

A word of caution 

Add the cream after the soup has chilled. Adding the cream and then chilling can promote bacterial growth.

Tips:
I like to transfer the chilled soup into a pitcher to make it easier to dispense, and to take up less space in my fridge, but YMMV.

This is a particularly great use for older potatoes, because the starches in the potato have begun to break down into sugars, producing a slightly sweeter and more flavorful soup.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Upgraded Breakfast - Omelette with Onion Sauce

It's Saturday morning. You were able to sleep in, and you're finally awake enough to want breakfast. You have a little more energy than usual, but not enough that you want to go through some hour-long ritual to make breakfast. But you also want something a little nicer than usual. What to do? Coincidentally, I found myself in just that spot about an hour ago. I would have made bacon and eggs, but the bacon was still frozen. So, omelette. But plain omelettes are kind of boring sometimes. Maybe sauteed onions? I wanted a little texture, and I never mess with the eggs themselves; the more junk you add to the eggs, the more the eggs stick to the pan, and usually the eggs or the other crap drown out the flavor of one another, so instead I will put things like onions in the middle. I wanted a little texture, so I cut the onion lengthwise to make lots of parentheses. If you want to cut them another way, that's up to you. I think having larger pieces makes it a little more pleasant for caramelized onions, but it's entirely up to you. Nice big pan, sautee the onions on medium heat to caramelize with a big pat of butter. I used one small onion and about a tablespoon of butter. Once the onions are sizzling, make sure to turn the heat down to low or medium low. If you leave the heat up, the onions will burn, and we don't want that. You want the heat high enough to cook, but not so high that the outside cooks too much faster than the inside. That's where the shape of the onion you chopped becomes really important, because it changes the ratio of the surface area to the volume, and thus the necessary time and temperature necessary. Once the onions were sauteed, I put them aside and added a pat of butter to the pan. At this point I notticed that the bottom of the pan had nicely browned from the onions, and the wheels in my head began to turn. I thought about how, if this were a roast, I would be deglazing the pan to get all those lovely flavors, but in an omelette they go to waste. What if I could somehow deglaze the pan and get those lovely complex flavors? I made a standard four egg omelette with a nice sharp white cheddar cheese and set that aside. Quickly, add about three tablespoons of butter to the pan and let it melt. Feel free to move it around the pan to melt faster. Once melted, it should be getting pretty warm, add a teaspoon of flour and then mix this in the pan. Let the pan continue to heat to cook the roux, then add a splash of half and half. If you need real measurements, I would guess around 1/3 - 1/2 cup. Whisk or mix this so that it all becomes homogenous and add more half and half as necessary. Once homogenous, add the caramelized onions and stir, stir, stir, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with your spoon or spatula as you go. This is where it gets a little bit tricky. The sauce will thicken, thicken, and then without warning will seize. It's okay- add a little more half and half and whisk it around and it will be okay. Remember what happened so you don't do that again next time though. The omelette by this time will have had a chance to have everything inside nice and fully melted. Pour the onion sauce on top and eat immediately. You get the sweetness from the caramelized onion and the sugars from the half and half beautifully contrasting the sharpness of the cheddar cheese, plus a certain savory complexity from the deglazing. This is a really nice and simple way to nice your next breakfast a little nicer without needing to do much more work. I would add a photo, but the moment I had a taste (ditto my wife) it was inhaled. One interesting variant may be to deconstruct the omelette a little further and make a cheddar sauce to replace the cheddar filling. I think that might be going a little far, but it would be a fun experiment. If you decide to go for it before I do, let me know how it goes!