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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"Four Star Tour" Dinner, Course 2:   Leek & Corn Veloute

This is the fifth in a series of posts directed to a holiday dinner party that I recently held at my home, for which I put together a six-course menu comprised of dishes inspired by the Bay Area's four-star chefs.   For more on the dinner, please see these posts:   Intro | Menu Planning, Pt. 1 | Menu Planning, Pt. 2 | Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3 | Course 4 | Course 5 | Course 6 | Closing

As I think back to my many visits to La Folie over the years, I can't think of a single instance in which my meal did not include an outstanding soup.   Indeed, one of my earliest memories of being astounded by how a simple broth could be transformed into something spectacular was at La Folie, and that may very well explain why Roland Passot and soups have become virtually synonomous in my mind.   Yet, despite my great affinity for this ubiquitous appetizer, I surprisingly did very little exploration in this regard in my own kitchen until I started toying with the idea of multi-course dinner parties.   In that context, soups are a godsend;   they can be prepared almost entirely in advance, they can be heated up easily right before service, and they can nicely showcase the flavor of the chosen ingredient.   So, in light of all of the above, it was hardly an accident that I chose Roland Passot's Leek and Corn Veloute as the second course for my recent dinner party.

Although soups can be made in nearly as many textures as they can flavors, cream soups have long been my favorite.   There's something decadent about a good cream soup, the flavor of the underlying ingredients delivered through an ultra-smooth and utterly rich medium.   It goes without saying, of course, that the success of a cream soup is necessarily dependent upon the quality of the component ingredients.   But, in my experience, there are two particular steps in the preparation of a cream soup that are equally critical to an outstanding result.

First, it is imperative that the soup - after being run through a food processor - be passed through a chinois or other fine-mesh strainer.   The simple reality is that no food processor, blender, hand blender or other device is going to liquify everything, and the last thing you want is to have small bits of solids detracting from the otherwise velvety texture of your soup.   One technique that I have found useful is to run the soup through a food processor, place it in a chinois, and then use a hand blender - plunged right into the chinois itself - to pulverize the soup further and permit more of it to pass through.   The benefit of doing this, of course, is a soup with a truly uniform texture, which becomes all the more luxurious with the subsequent addition of cream.

Second, as is true with many foods, it's critical that the soup be salted properly.   Because salt is a flavor enhancer, an improperly seasoned soup will come across as dull, while a properly seasoned one will be vibrant.   Hitting the optimal salt level, however, is anything but easy, and the only way to develop this skill is seemingly through extensive experience and constant tasting.   It's also important, of course, to always add salt slowly and incrementally, to make sure that you don't end up overshooting the target.
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There's more...

Recipe, Tweaks, Tips and Techniques

Roland Passot's recipe for Leek & Corn Veloute is included in The Secrets of Success Cookbook - a compilation of recipes from the Bay Area's most popular restaurants, put together by Michael Bauer (the lead food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle).   Because Bauer obtained the recipes from the chefs themselves, the cookbook generally yields results that are faithful to the original dishes.   Yet, when I looked at the recipe for Leek & Corn Veloute, there were two things that struck me as unusual and potentially worth modifying.

First, most soups of this sort call for sauteeing the vegetables, adding chicken broth, pureeing, and adding cream - in that order.   Passot, however, indicates that the cream should be incorporated shortly after the vegetables have been sauteed - before the chicken broth has even been added.   Moreover, he also states that the cream and vegetable mixture should be brought to a boil before the chicken stock is added, and that the entire soup should be brought to a boil again afterward.   Perhaps this is just a personal idiosyncrasy, but I always get a little leery at the prospect of bringing heavy cream to a full boil.   Seeing no good reason to depart from the sequence that I am accustomed to using, I decided to flip the order of the cream and chicken stock steps - and to skip entirely the part about boiling the cream.

Second, most cream soups that I have prepared use a stock to cream ratio of 2 to 1.   Passot's recipe calls for a ratio of 1 to 1 - meaning that his finished soup will be extra rich and creamy, but the flavor of its components will be significantly more diluted.   I wrestled with what to do on this point, but in the end I decided to go with my gut and use the seemingly more standard ratio of 2 to 1.   And I'm glad that I did, because the flavor of the finished product would have beem markedly diminished had it been diluted in extra cream.

The final change that I made to the original recipe was to skip the sauteed rock shrimp that Passot suggests should be placed on top of each bowl of soup.   Not only did I prefer the idea of presenting the unfettered flavor of leek and corn, but skipping the shrimp also enabled me to avoid the real-time task of sauteeing.

The recipe set forth below, which reflects the modifications that I made to the original, is the one that I used the night of my dinner party.   Note that the recipe yields around 5 cups of finished soup, which is enough for 4-6 regular servings.   When I do a multi-course menu, however, I normally serve only a half cup of soup to each diner - so this recipe was perfect for my dinner for 10. The "specialized" equipment referenced in the following recipe includes a chinois and a hand blender:

Leek & Corn Veloute
Inspired by Roland Passot, La Folie

  • 1/2 c unsalted butter
  • 5 shallots (about 1/2 lb), chopped
  • 4 leeks (white part only), cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced and washed
  • 3 ears of corn, kernels cut off
  • 1 c extra-dry vermouth
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 4 c chicken stock
  • salt and white pepper to taste

1.   In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter.   Add leeks and shallots, and saute for approximately 5 minutes (or until the leeks and shallots have become translucent).   Add the corn, and cook for approximately 15 minutes while stirring periodically.

2.   Add the vermouth to the pot and bring to a boil.   Continue to cook for about 10 more minutes, until the vermouth has reduced by half.   Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil once again.   Reduce heat, and maintain mixture at a simmer for approximately 10 more minutes.

3.    Working in batches if necessary, puree the mixture thoroughly in a food processor.   Transfer the puree to a chinois or other fine-mesh strainer, and then pulverize the puree further by using a hand blender (submerged into the mixture as it sits in the chinois).   Note that the soup can be made up to this point and then stored, covered and in the refrigerator, for up to 1 day.

4.   Return soup to clean pot.   Add cream, and stir well to incorporate fully.

5.   Reheat soup gently and gradually, taking care not to let soup boil.   Season with salt and white pepper to taste.   Serve.

Yields approximately 5 cups, enough for 4-6 regular servings.


Anonymous Rhonda said...

N.S. will not say, but as guest co-host and sous chef, I will modestly attest that the dinner went amazingly well. About this course, in particular, I feel compelled to report that, once it reached the table, the guests all fell silent and the next sentence I recall being uttered was, "is it okay if we lick the bowl?" Thanks so much, N!

December 07, 2005 12:35 PM  
Anonymous CADem said...

N.S.'s Leek & Corn Veloute was fabulous - although I was not the one to suggest licking the bowl. The texture was smooth, the temperature right on (even though the task of serving everyone in a timely fashion approached Herculean - and I'm talking the historical Hercules here, not the Disney character), and the rich and savory flavor was a joy. The Egg, which I also liked a great deal but was such a small volume of food, more than whetted my appetite, and the soup delivered.

As an aside, my reintroduction to the joy of soups over the past few years has come in large part from N.S.'s excellent preparations. I grew up with Campbell's Tomato Soup and refused to touch a soup again until I lived in clam chowder central and, even then, I pretty much stuck with chowder. But now I'm much more open to the hot stuff.

More thoughts to come as N.S. blogs through the later courses.

December 07, 2005 5:01 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

how can I become a friend of NS like you two? huh?

December 09, 2005 8:45 AM  
Blogger NS said...

Sam: Fear not, if/when I work up the nerve to host a dinner party for my favorite Bay Area food bloggers, you will certainly be on the list!

December 14, 2005 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Catherine said...

I'm off to La Folie Wed (for the first time, shhh!) Now I see I must order soup!

December 16, 2005 10:50 AM  

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