Leeks Are Universal
I’ve been going to markets in France for more than thirty years. Each market has its own, distinct personality which has to do with the day, the season, and primarily the region in which it is held. There are universals, though, and the leek is one of them. Which is why I was astounded the other day at the Marche de Saxe, in Paris’ 7th arrondissement, when I saw the biggest, fattest leek that ever existed.
The Girth, Oh the Girth
That is just slight exaggeration. Leeks range from thin to robust, but never had I seen one with this much girth – perhaps 4 inches (10cm). It and its compatriots were stacked on a shelf behind the market stand, as though slightly hidden from public view. My eyes were riveted on the leeks, and I thought they’d been placed out of plain sight because, perhaps, they were beginning to flower and thus tough and hard in the center.
The gentleman in line in front of me was reading off a carefully made list, and the grower, Fabien, was rapidly grabbing bouquets of herbs, a fat squash, some beautiful leaf spinach, and everything else the man requested. Then, this request: “Poireaux vinaigrette, s.v.p.” the man said. And Fabien turned to the stack of fatter-than-fat leeks and grabbed one. “Non, s.v.p., quatre,” the man said, and his wish was fulfilled. The weight was well over 4 pounds; 2kg. When it was my turn I asked Fabien what were these “poireaux vinaigrette”. “They’re the sweetest, most tender, most succulent leek you will ever eat,” he responded without a beat. “It’s a variety all on its own.” I had to try it.
You Must Make Leeks Vinaigrette
Oh my, oh my! Fabien was right; so was Mr. Poireaux Vinaigrette in front of me in line. Oh, I’ve made Leeks with Vinaigrette over and over, and honestly? I LOVE them and it’s a true, pure love, even if they are slightly tough, slightly stringy at times. With this “new to me” poireaux vinaigrette, that will never be the case again. I will be making this dish regularly until there are no more “poireaux vinaigrette” to be had. And now I want you to do the same.
Trim and Peel and You’ll Get What You Want
If you cannot find this particular variety, don’t despair. Just make sure the leeks you get are fresh and firm; peel off several outer layers and use just the white part. You’ll get the same effect, and you must make this often like I will, because leeks are still good and will help you be patient until the spring/summer abundance arrives.
Sensory Voyage to France
When you sit down to eat your Poireaux Vinaigrette, its flavor and succulence will help you imagine that you’re in France. For there you will be, sitting at your favorite bistro, white cloth on the table, glass of “rouge” at your fingertips, basket of freshly sliced and baked baguette at the ready! Bon Rêve and Bon Appétit!
Leeks Vinaigrette - Poireaux Vinaigrette
- 1 large (1 pound;500g) leek , white part only
- 1 tablespoon red vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon untoasted peanut oil or other neutral oil
- 1 shallot diced
- Zest from 1 lemon minced
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
- Parsley sprigs, for garnish
- Cut the leek in quarters or half, lengthwise
- Bring 3 cups (750ml) water to a boil in the bottom of a steamer. When the water is boiling, place the leeks in the steamer basket, cover, and steam until the leeks are tender, which will take very little time, about 5 minutes.
- While the leeks are steaming, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt, and the mustard. Whisk in the shallot, then slowly whisk in the oil until the mixture is emulsified. Season to taste.
- Mince the shallot, and the lemon zest, and whisk into the vinaigrette.
- When the leeks are tender, transfer them to a cotton or linen tea towel to remove any drips of liquid.
- Right before serving, mince the parsley and whisk it into the vinaigrette.
- Arrange the leeks on a serving plate, or on four individual plates. Pour over the vinaigrette, and garnish with herb sprigs. Serve and enjoy!