Leek Cooking Tips and Hints

Vichyssoise Was Created in America

Leeks
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Perhaps vichyssoise, a cold puréed potato-leek soup, is the most famous leek dish on the planet. You might be surprised to learn that, contrary to its name, this dish is an American creation, albeit by a French chef. 

It was created by Chef Louis Diat in New York City's Ritz Carlton Hotel. He created the perfect cold soup for summer around 1900, inspired by boyhood memories of asking his mother for cold milk to add to hot soup to cool it off enough to eat.

How to Select Leeks

The younger the leek, the more delicate the flavor and texture. Choose leeks that have a 2- to 3-inch clean, white, slender bottom above firm, tightly rolled dark-green tops.

The base should be at least 1/2 inch in diameter, although most are much larger, usually 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches. If the bottoms are beginning to round into bulb shapes, the leeks are a bit too mature.

How to Store Leeks

Do not trim or wash leeks before storing. Lightly wrap them in plastic to contain the odor and moisture, and store hem in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. Depending on how fresh they are and when they were purchased, they can be stored from five days up to two weeks. 

Leeks aren't good candidates for freezing or canning unless you plan on using them as an ingredient in soups or other recipes rather than as the star of a dish. Freezing turns them to mush and gives them a bitter flavor.

If, however, you do decide to freeze leeks, cut them into slices or whole lengths. Seal in airtight bags, freeze, and use within three months but do not thaw before adding them to a recipe.

How to Clean Leeks

  • Cut off the root end of the white bulb and the very dark green ends and discard or save for stock. 
  • Cut the leek lengthwise into quarters through the green end.
  • Rinse the cut white and light green sections of the leek under cool running water, fanning them apart to remove all the dirt and grit.
  • Now you are ready to chop, slice or dice the leeks.

Leek Cooking Tips

Since leeks are related to onions, they can be substituted for onions in most recipes and cooked in the same way. Conversely, unless you use a very mild sweet onion or perhaps green onions, substituting onions for leeks will result in a much stronger flavor which might be detrimental to the intent of the original dish. These leek substitution tips should help.

A simple preparation is to slice or chop the white part of a leek and sauté it in butter or olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Enjoy as is or added to a dish toward the ends of its cooking. 

Leeks partner well with chicken, ham, cheese, cream, garlic, and shallots. Complementary herbs and spices include chervil, parsley, sagethymebasil, lemon, and mustard.

Leeks can be fried, braised, boiled in soups or stocks, roasted in an oven, and even caramelized like onions.

When cooking leeks as a side dish, it is important they not be overcooked. Overcooking will turn them into a slimy, unappetizing pile of mush.

They should be cooked until tender but still exert a little resistance when pierced. Cooked leeks should be covered, refrigerated, and used within one to two days.

What to Do With the Tops

The dark-green trimmed leaves of leeks can be used to flavor stock when included in a bouquet garni, or blanched and used as a wrapper for any variety of fillings.

Leek Recipes

  • Green Garlic and Leek Risotto Recipe: Leeks are chopped evenly and finely in this Italian-rice-inspired dish.
  • Leek Tart RecipeIn a recipe such as this, which calls for lots of leeks, they should be thinly sliced to preserve their appearance but to cut down on their naturally fibrous texture.
  • British Leek RecipesThis collection features some real classic recipes, including Welsh rarebit, chicken, leek and cheese pie, cheese and leek soufflé, leek and Stilton cheese soup, and many more.