Sunday, 10 July 2011

Crème Vichyssoise

I just love cold soups in the summer and ever since I first tasted Crème Vichyssoise at the tender age of 16, I fell in love with it. I can still remember the occasion, it was my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary and the four of us (Mum, Dad, my brother and me) went to a restaurant to celebrate. I ordered the soup and not knowing it was supposed to be cold, I was a little confused to say the least when it arrived in a cold bowl resting in a dish of ice, but just one sip and I was sold and have been ever since.

The soup comes from Vichy as the name suggests (not so far from here) and the story goes that in the 17th century Louis XIV was to be served a normal leak and potato soup but because of all the tasters and hangers-on that had to check out the safety of the food etc, by the time it reach the king himself, the soup had in fact gone cold. The king however, was delighted with this cold soup and so it has forever remained a chilled delicacy. How much more authentically French than that can you get?

Along with most really good stories this one appears to be a bit of a fabrication. Normally when these things come to light they are found to be some sort of marketing ploy, but this one is in fact an anti-marketing ploy. The soup was actually invented in 1917 in New York by Louis Diat the chef at the Ritz-Carlton - it was an instant success however, professional jealousy took hold of yet another Louis (Louis de Gouy) the chef from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He wanted to take the glory away from his great rival and so he invented the Louis XIV story and spread it far and wide, thus making this recipe forever French, but more importantly allowing him to also serve it in his restaurant !

Why not try it, here's my version of the recipe.

2 leeks, finely chopped, not too much of the dark green bits
2 shallots, finely chopped
a large knob of butter
4 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into smallish pieces, keep in a bowl of water until use
1 litre chicken stock
Crème fraiche or thick sour cream
Salt and pepper
Chopped chives as garnish

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and very gently stew the leeks and shallots until they are completely cooked. Keep the heat very low, the leeks and shallots must not brown at all.
Add the chicken stock and the drained potatoes and simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked right through.
Put the whole mixture into a blender or use a hand blender to blend the soup into a homogenous mix, it should be pretty thick, but a spoon should not stand up in it ! If it is too thick, add some stock, water or milk.
When the soup has cooled to about 40 degrees add two ladles of crème fraiche and stir it through until it is thoroughly mixed in, taste and add “slightly too much” salt and pepper.
Let the whole soup cool in the fridge for several hours then taste again. You will most probably have to add more salt and pepper as cold food needs more flavouring than warm food, so do not be surprised.

Serve in cold bowls with a sprinkling of chopped chives on top.

What could be better on a summer’s evening sitting in the garden eating an authentic French Crème Vichyssoise with a cold glass of the Chardonnay ?

Our gites are near Chardonnay and not too far from Vichy why not click here to see our website.

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