For Potato Lovers Who Also Love Soup: Potato/Leek Soup with Chicken

In early January, I received a notice from a blog to which I subscribe, which is authored by a young woman who moved to the Netherlands from her homeland of the Philippines for good reason: she married a Dutchman. Malou Prestado’s site includes not only recipes but also insights into everyday life in her adopted country, as well as an occasional glimpse into the culture of her birth. It’s called Going Dutch, and Loving It. Her 11/4/12 post provided me with an idea for possibly enhancing a soup I’d already made a few times.

Malou’s post began with, “For yesterday’s dinner, I have [sic] to raid the fridge because I didn’t want to bravely confront the storm on my bike. The fridge revealed the following: potatoes, leeks and carrots (leftover from the bag of carrots I used for the carrot cake I made for the hubby on his birthday). I happened to still have one chicken breast as well and there was still crème fraîche.” I loved the “vision” of that culture, so European, that emerged with the phrase in line one: “on my bike.” I’d have to jump into my little Saturn Aura to drive a minimum of four miles to the closest supermarket to get decent meat. Even if I owned a bicycle of my own, the thought of all those cars on busy roads would deter any thought of biking to Hannaford (my knees wouldn’t like it either!). As for vegetables, even in summer when farmers’ markets are now plentiful around here, one has to drive several miles for good, totally fresh, local produce – and make sure to plan the schedule around which markets are going on and when they happen (my favorites are in Schenectady on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – this one even runs during winter, but indoors at Proctor’s – and a Saturday market at The Crossings town park in Colonie, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m). This is why we own not only a large refrigerator in the kitchen but also a small freezer in the garage.

I also loved that Marlou talked about what home cooks everywhere do: she “made do” with what she had on hand. I didn’t have all those ingredients in-house, but her Creamy Potato, Leeks and Carrot Soup recipe set me salivating for potato-leek soup, so I made a point to purchase what I needed next time I hit the grocery store. I’d made this soup before (and loved it), but never with chicken. Hey, it was worth a try! Adding a bit more protein to the cauldron works for me.

Besides referring to the Going Dutch version, I also went back to my penciled-in scribbles on a Potato Soup recipe (allegedly French) in my go-to cookbook about soups, Robert Ackart’s A Celebration of Soups (Doubleday & Company, 1982), a book I’ve mentioned on this blog a couple times before. When I created a potato-leek soup from Ackart’s recipe, I made too many changes in it to list here, at least as far as ingredient amounts go; plus instead of water I used a combo of vegetable and chicken broths. I also added a few spices. This most recent concoction obviously included chicken. I didn’t have crème fraîche on hand since it’s an ingredient I buy only when needed for a specific recipe (what would I do with the leftovers?). In fact, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to find crème fraîche in most supermarkets – if you’re looking for it, you’re better off asking at the customer service desk if they carry it because the grocery workers aren’t likely to know what you’re talking about!

Incidentally, on the witchy side (if you’re at all interested), there’s a listing in the back of A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook by Patricia Telesco (Llewellyn Publications, 1994) called “Magical Correlations of Ingredients” in which it totes chicken as associated with “Health, well-being, sunrise magic.” The potato, it suggests, associates with “Folk medicine, health, grounding, earth magic.” (Makes sense: potatoes are root vegetables, ergo earth magic.) Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003) cites leeks for “magical power” stating, “All foods that lend the body strength also lend extra magical power. There’s no difference between the two; there’s only the purpose for which they are used.” I guess that takes care of the basic ingredients in this dish! Oh yeah, the carrots – hold onto your (witch) hats for this one: Cunningham says that, “Prepared and eaten with the correct visualization, carrots may play a part in overcoming psychological impotency,” and further suggests one should “Cook them with parsley and caraway for the best results.” And here I thought that they were merely good for the eyes, beta carotene and all that…

Magical possibilities aside, I just happen to love potatoes – prepared almost any which-way. I was most likely primed by my mother’s mashed potatoes, a side dish she made at least twice a week every week of my childhood. They were so melt-in-the-mouth good that my cousin Mary even asked for – and got – a large bowl of them at her wedding reception! Isn’t that enough to acquire a lifelong addiction to a vegetable?

So here’s my most recent rendition of potato-leek soup, with chicken added this time. Make it as written or, as I do, tweak it to your personal taste! And thank you, Malou, for the inspiration to try it with chicken – it’s delicious!

POTATO/LEEK/CHICKEN SOUP
Yield: about 18 cups of soup

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 full chicken breast, cut into bite-sizes
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ¼-inch rounds
  • 3 or 4 ribs of celery, chopped (If leaves are still attached and they’re healthy-looking, use them too; I also pare off most of the ribbing on the stalks)
  • 4 or 5 medium-sized leeks, rinsed and chopped, white part only (This time making it, I only had 3 medium leeks and so added a couple teaspoons of dried, diced shallot purchased in October when we visited Salem, Massachusetts – I’d never encountered dried shallot before!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth plus 4 cups chicken broth, preferably sodium-free (or use any combo that adds up to 8 cups)
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 to 10 medium potatoes (perhaps 4 or 6 pounds), peeled and diced into approximately 1 inch or slightly smaller chunks
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley (or ¼ cup dried parsley)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 3 small bay leaves (or 2 large)
  • sprinkle of dried thyme
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons, or up to ¼ cup, heavy cream or light cream (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter (optional)
  • Sea Salt or Kosher Salt, to taste
  • Ground Pepper, to taste
  • Sour cream, Greek yogurt or crème fraîche (optional)
  • More parsley for decoration (optional)

Process

  1. In a large soup kettle, heat the butter and oil together.
  2. Add the chicken and sauté until lightly browned and cooked through.
  3. Remove chicken from pan and set aside, preferably in the refrigerator since it may be some time before re-added to the pan.
  4. Add carrots, celery and leeks to pot, sautéing them in remaining butter/oil (add a bit more oil if not enough left after removing chicken) – about 3 minutes.
  5. Add chopped garlic and continue to sauté for about another minute.
  6. Pour the broth(s) and water into the vegetables mixture.
  7. Add potatoes to pot.
  8. Add parsley, marjoram, bay leaves and thyme.
  9. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes – or until potato is tender.
  10. Remove bay leaves.
  11. At this point, I generally remove about a cup of the broth-liquid, allowing that I’ll want a thick soup and preferring to add liquid after puréeing if it’s needed. It’s insurance that the soup won’t be thinner than I like it. If you prefer a not-so-thick soup, then skip this step. (Also, remember that you’ll be “thinning” it slightly with cream later on, if you choose to do so.)
  12. Whirl the mixture to a smooth texture (or semi-smooth, which is usually my preference), using either an immersion blender (easiest), food processor or blender. The latter two will take a little more time since you’ll have to do it in small batches. If you’ve used the immersion blender, you’ll purée right in the soup pan; if working with a food processor or blender, you’ll return the mixture to the same pan.
  13. Re-add the previously cooked chicken to the kettle, stirring in, and allow about 3 to 5 minutes for them to re-heat.
  14. If mixture is thicker than desired, re-add as much of the reserved broth-liquid as needed to get to preferred consistency.
  15. Stir in the cream (if using) and allow soup to continue to heat for a few minutes. (Unless I know a guest can’t do dairy products, I always add cream—it makes for a richer bowl of warm goodness.)
  16. If using the extra butter, add it to soup. (I often don’t bother – seems like plenty of butter with the sautéing.)
  17. Salt and pepper to your personal taste.
  18. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, Greek yogurt or crème fraîche; sprinkle with some chopped fresh parsley or dried parsley (both of which are optional but do add an extra bit of flavor, besides making for a nice adornment!)

A nice side-salad goes well with this soup, or just some good bread or rolls. On the day after our initial potato soup indulgence this time around, I made sandwiches to add to the dinner fare: black forest ham encased between provolone and cheddar cheese, with sliced tomatoes, on great thick-sliced Italian bread from a local bakery – all grilled up beautifully.