If there was ever a soup that was more than the sum of its parts, Vichyssoise would be it. Consisting of four basic ingredients: chicken stock, leeks, potatoes and cream, many versions of this uncomplicated soup have been staples in both French and American kitchens for centuries. The credit for this particular style often goes to French chef Louis Diat, who added Vichyssoise as we know it to the menu at the Ritz Carlton in New York, N.Y. in the early 1900s.
"Vichyssoise is a beautiful break for my palate — the equivalent of dropping my shoulders and removing my tongue from the roof of my mouth," says Natalie Trevino, chef and owner of The Roughian, a conceptual supper club in Corpus Christi, Tex. "It is a time to freeze, be hyper-present and enjoy the fact that someone's mom made them cold potato soup as a kid in 1800s France and it drives culinary minds wild, globally, in 2022."
Like so many other popular foods, Vichyssoise has even garnered its own holiday in the U.S. National Vichyssoise Day falls each year on November 18th — kicking off the perfect time of year to start building your soup repertoire for the colder months ahead.
Depending on where you are in the world, the weather in November and early December can be temperamental. One day it's 75 degrees and you feel like fall might be sweet and mild. The next day it's 35 degrees and you're pulling out the winter coat while the sky threatens to drop wet early-season snow. So perhaps a soup that can be served either chilled or warm is precisely the right soup for the season.
In the name of comfort, I turned to the classic Vichyssoise recipe in Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking. The late Bourdain's no-frills classic French bistro recipe is a great place to start for anyone wanting to create an essential Vichyssoise. The recipe is straightforward, calling for butter, leeks, potatoes, light chicken stock, cream, nutmeg, salt, pepper and fresh chives to garnish.
While speaking with Yahoo Life to promote the new cooking app Flavrs, Eric Ripert chef at Le Bernardin in New York, N.Y. and Bourdain's longtime friend and travel partner, shared his own secrets for making Vichyssoise.
"What makes a good Vichyssoise is not too many potatoes and very good quality leeks and cooking it quickly until the leeks are very tender," says Ripert. "And then, when you mix the soup, making sure that you don't use your blender too long in the soup because potatoes have the tendency to become kind of elastic and give a weird consistency to your soup."
In the Les Halles Cookbook, Bourdain also mentions the blending process is key when making this soup. "OK, the next part is tricky," he writes in the recipe instructions. "Slowly, and in small batches, puree the soup at high speed in the blender … never filling the blender up too high."
"You don't want to overdo it, but also at the same time, you don't want big chunks of potato," Ripert explains. "So you have to find the right amount of time that is needed in the mixing."
But who makes the better Vichyssoise? "I'm not sure who has the better recipe," Ripert says. "I'm sure there's some slight differences between Anthony's recipe and my recipe because we all have our own sensitivity."
"I'm sure his is delicious," he adds. "I know that mine is delicious too, because I make it very often for the family and we enjoy it together. It's just a matter of sensitivity when you cook and when you eat."
Vichyssoise is such a clean slate: easy to build flavors on top of, and nearly every chef has their own take on it. "Last winter we made a California sort of clam chowder," says Daniel Lucero, a chef de cuisine at Afici in San Francisco, Calif. who is overseen by executive chef Eric Upper.
The restaurant gave the soup a high-end spin with a seafood stock and specialty garnishes. "The soup was basically a Vichy but instead of water I used clam cuisson," adds Lucero. "[The] garnish was abalone, geoduck, wagyu chorizo and potato."
Alyssa D'Angelo, chef and owner of Off the Line Chefs in New York, N.Y., likes to add a touch of crème fraîche to the soup along with the cream for a slightly richer flavor. Diversifying the dairy in the recipe is a move Trevino also uses when making Vichyssoise. "I appreciate the different amounts of cream, milk, half and half, as well as butter in monsieur Diat's original creation. So, that is what I use," says Trevino.
I set out to make Vichyssoise for myself, using Bourdain's recipe as my guide. But first, I had to make a batch of chicken stock, which is also outlined in the Les Halles Cookbook. I put five pounds of chicken bones from the butcher into a 6-quart pot, along with a bay leaf, one tablespoon of whole black peppercorns, two chopped carrots, three chopped celery ribs, a halved onion and water filled within ½ an inch of the top of the pot. I brought it to a boil, then reduced the heat to a simmer and skimmed the surface of the stock for about 10 hours before straining and cooling. If you want to skip this step, feel free to purchase a high-quality, low or no-sodium chicken stock, no judgment. Cooking the stock is by far the longest part of making Vichyssoise, but a satisfying way to get started.
4 tablespoons (56 grams) butter, unsalted
8 leeks, white part only, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 medium potatoes, cut into small cubes (I used russet potatoes, peeled)
4 cups (900 mL) light chicken stock or broth
2 cups (450 mL) heavy cream
1 pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
4 fresh chives, finely chopped
Wash and slice the leeks. Peel and cut the potatoes.
In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat, then add the sliced leeks. Cook for about five minutes, stirring regularly to sweat but taking care not to brown. Once the leeks have softened and reduced, add the potatoes and cook for about two minutes.
Next, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil before reducing to a gentle simmer for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the potatoes are very soft, remove the pot from the heat and let cool for five minutes.
In several small batches, blend the soup on high speed to puree. Afterward, return all of the puree to the pot. Whisk in the cream and nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Once more, bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about five more minutes, adjusting the seasoning as desired.
Chill the finished soup in an ice bath before refrigerating. Once cold, wrap tightly with plastic wrap to store for several days. Serve chilled with freshly cut chives in chilled bowls, or reheat to enjoy warm.
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