Aloha and Happy New Year, friends! I spent my turn of the year in a plane over the Pacific–how about you? I’m checking in just before my flight back to ye old Bostontown. Since I talked to you last, I spent a week in Maui (!) and a week back in Waco working at this joint with my main man. It’s crazy how busy a “break” can be.
In Maui, we swam and sunbathed all day and spent our evenings dining at a few nice places, including, but not limited to, Pacific’O, Lahaina Grill, and Gerard’s (traditional French cuisine in Maui–who’d of thought?). It’s a rough life. When we got back home I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the seafood, but I didn’t want to juxtapose the fresh fish options in home sweet Waco with the smorgasbord we just came from. I was also in the mood to try a few French recipes after our experience at Gerard’s.
I ended up trying out a recipe from a book my soon-to-be mother-in-law gave me for Christmas–the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), by Julia Child. The idea for this soup also came from a warm salmon vichyssoise the fiancé and I once had in Amsterdam. It was one of those dishes that grows and grows in your memory until there’s no earthly way to replicate it.
When I read Julia Child’s entry for vichyssoise, I realized that the soup has an interesting history. As a variation on the puréed soup of potato, leeks, and water, Child lists the cold vichyssoise as “an American invention.” The most important differences seem to be that the vichyssoise is cooked in stock instead of water, and served chilled with a liberal pour of cream. Our Amsterdam soup was hot, though, and as the man thought the idea of cold soup in January was sacrilege, I had no real choice.
Even with all these options in Julia Child’s book, I couldn’t quit tinkering with the recipe. These French recipes in Mastering the Art are simple, elegant, and to-the-point. I couldn’t let it rest, though, and I must say, while the original must be lovely, this version is scrumptious and winter-warming.
A few of the changes I made included adding some wild salmon at the end of cooking, and (shocker) adding butter, cream, freshly-grated parmesan, and a crispy pancetta topping with a nod to the hyper-American baked potato soup.
Using water or a lighter stock would have given this soup a whiter color, which the fiancé suggested. Honestly, until now, I didn’t know he was very aware of the aesthetic appeal of his food. I’ve created a monster! Sigh.
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large leek stalks, cleaned and chopped in ½-inch pieces (I know, I know, cool it with the leeks)
1 garlic clove, minced
½ serrano pepper, seeds removed, diced finely (optional, swap for a pinch of crushed red pepper)
3 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and diced in 1-inch cubes
4 cups chicken stock
2-3 cups of spinach and arugula (can use just spinach or just arugula, if you have it on hand)
½ cup freshly-grated parmesan
2 Tablespoons butter (I recommend Irish butter)
2 Tablespoons (cough, some glugs) of heavy whipping cream
16 oz. Sockeye salmon (or other firm fish), skin removed and diced in ½-inch pieces
2-4 oz. pancetta, crisped in a skillet, and chopped (optional, can swap with bacon)
Olive oil for drizzling
1. Melt butter over medium heat. Sauté leeks for 3-5 minutes, until they begin to sweat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add serrano and cook 1 minute more. Add potatoes. Cook 2 minutes more.
2. Add stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, testing potatoes frequently for doneness. Remove from heat. Let cool slightly.
3. Meanwhile, sizzle pancetta in a skillet. When crispy, drain over paper towels. When cooled, chop into 1-cm pieces (or smaller) and set aside.
4. Blitz! Use immersion blender or pour batches into a food processor. Purée about ⅔ of the mixture and leave the last ⅓ unprocessed. If preferred, blitz it all, but the fiancé and I like to have some potato chunks remaining.
5. Return to pot and bring back to a simmer. When simmering, turn off heat, if electric, but leave pot on burner. (Turn to low if on a gas stove–residual heat is doing the cooking at this point.) Add salmon and stir. Add greens and cover for 5 minutes.
6. Test salmon pieces for doneness. If not cooking, return heat to low, but don’t overcook the fish!
7. Add remaining butter, cream, and cheese, and stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, ladle into bowls and drizzle with olive oil, additional pepper, more grated parmesan cheese, and the crispy pancetta.