Godly Greens: My soft leeks in white butter sauce.
I had enough of snow and rain and of the cold they bring. I long for spring, the quiet sunshine and the sprouting of things. But these days the weather in Groningen never ceases to disappoint. The water that has collected in the rain gutters in front of my windows has been frozen for months now. But there is hope, tiny snowdrops are lifting their heads where-ever you look. They are the messengers of spring and while some of them will wilt in the frosty nights to come, it seems true that you can kill the messenger but not the message. Spring is coming and not a million snowflakes will prevent that. What better way to celebrate this, than with a lovely dish? I know that leeks are not exactly spring vegetables, but for me they symbolize the fresh and faint green of the growing that is spring. Braised in a chicken stock and served with a light beurre blanc my soft leeks will make you want more of the goods the spring will bring.
You are a lucky person. Because, you have the honour of being in bed with me. Not many people can say that. Well, I might also just hallucinate and you are not really here. Oh, the fever. I have been a bit sick lately. Not much, but it would have been a smart idea to lean back for a few days and to get some rest. But not this guy, no. Now I am paying the price for straining travels, being barefoot whenever possible, not sleeping with shirts (oh yes, that’s right) and not buttoning up my jacket when cycling through the night. But it’s not all bad: I get to make chicken-soup. And even better, I get to cook with the unavoidable left-overs (There is only so much leeks or celeriac a man can use). My soft-leeks are quite straight-forward, requires only a few ingredients and yet manages to bring luxury to your table.
I have said this before and I will say it again, if you are using only few ingredients (in this case 4 – give or take) make each one count. The leeks will be braised (first browned in a pan, then slowly partly cooked, partly steamed) in a chicken-stock that, quite literally, will permeate every last bit of your dish. A good stock really can lift the whole dish, while a bad stock might not particularly amaze you.
When looking for stock, try to find a good – preferably organic- stock or font without any artificial “flavour enhancers” (this does include yeast, btw.). You will only use a bit of the stock, so paying the extra-cent will definitely be worth it. Or better yet, make a delightful chicken-soup and keep a few cups of the soup in your fridge or freezer, this way you always have some good quality stock at hand.
Leeks Butter Cream Chicken or vegetable stock
3 medium-sized leeks make a good side-dish for two people.
Trim off the fine roots of the leaks, or they will float around in your sauce. Cut off the green leaves where the stalk begins to split, this way you will get rid of quite a lot of the grid hidden between the layers. Make sure not to hurt the root-base, or else your stems will fall apart while you braise them.
Half the stems and rinse them under cold water. Try to leave the stem-halves whole (well, yeah, as whole as halves can be). Pat the leeks dry with a kitchen towel or paper, or else they might not brown properly (this is true for almost anything you’ll ever want to brown).
Take a good lump of butter and melt it in pan large enough to fit all leeks in a single layer. (While I like butter, a good lump in this case is about one an a half teaspoons, give or take).
As soon as the butter starts to foam, add a drop or two of olive-oil. Add your leeks cut-side down. Seasoning will most likely not be necessary, the chicken-stock will do that for us. Brown the cut-sides of the leeks. With brown I mean brown, not charred or grilled. We want a bit of a roasting-flavour, but not the whole BBQ experience.
Add a few ladles of chicken-stock, the exact amount doesn’t really matter. The stock will be used to braise the leeks. Doing so requires them to be partly covered (half to two-thirds), covering the leeks fully will leave them mushy. Just do your thing.
There is two ways to go about the braising: Lid on or lid off. If your stock is rather intense already, using a lid might be a good idea to prevent the liquid from concentrating too much. If your stock is rather mild, leave the lid off either completely or half the cooking-time, to reduce it a bit. If the lid’s off, make sure to spoon a bit of the stock over the leeks every now and then, to keep them moist.
Braise the leeks for about 20 minutes or until the point of a knife can cut them easily (But before you could drink them with a straw).
Put the leeks on a plate. You could have them now, just as they are, maybe with a bit of lemon-juice on a nice slice of baguette. A heaped teaspoon of crème fraîche and you are set for a nice meal. To turn this into a lovely side-dish for potatoes, rice, chicken or veal, make a sneaky sauce, that will be done in minutes.
Making the sauce
Transfer the braising-liquid into a smaller saucepan.
Add a bit of cream, not too much, about a third of the braising-liquid. Stir well and put onto a medium heat stove, heat up til the sauce simmers. Take off the heat.
Remember my Italo-Chinese cheat Udon? Apart from being all thick and yummy, they came with a lovely intense beurre blanc. And this is basically what I am having my braised leeks with. Take some butter ( I really don’t know how much you will need, this depends on how thick you want your sauce and how much liquid is in your saucepan) and cut it into dice. Add one tiny block of butter and incorporate. Only after it has dissolved, add the second. Proceed slowly and carefully by incorporating more and more butter. You might need to put the pan on low heat, but be careful, if the pan gets to hot, the butter will split. For this dish I like my sauce a bit runny, so I don’t use too much butter. But it’s up to you, the more you add, the thicker the sauce will get.
Now all you need to do is to pour your sauce over the leeks and you are ready to go. This is lovely just on its own with a bit of rice or as a side with a moist chicken breast or a bit of poached fish.