A couple of days in Paris over New Year’s has me starting off 2013 with an insatiable appetite for all things French. Forget any new year’s resolutions to eat healthier, in 2013 I plan to eat
butter better. I want every meal to be memorable. In the morning, I would like freshly brewed coffee with steamed milk and a flaky, buttery pain de chocolat. For lunch, an open-faced tartine spread with rich country pâté and sliced cornichons with a glass of wine from Burgundy will do just fine. For dinner, a three course meal with each plate highlighting the best of what could be found at my local marche (market) will certainly suffice.
Perhaps I succumbed to the French approach to food as we shopped for a picnic lunch of freshly baked baguette, oozing and pungent camembert, and homemade sausage in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Rue Cler.
I certainly couldn’t have turned back when we passed the seventh food shop within the Marais neighborhood that had food that looked as interesting and good as this:
And it certainly could have been that we literally stumbled upon the sprawling Marche Bastille on our way to what our guidebook had proclaimed was the even better market of Marche D’Aligre.
Or perhaps, it is impossible to not become fanatical when your surrounded by an entire country of people who take food this seriously.
No matter the reason, I arrived home from Paris on January 1st with plenty of inspiration and an insatiable appetite. I’ve been trying to recreate some of my favorite French dishes over the past week including this classic dish of braised leeks.
On our third night in Paris, we found ourselves at Restaurant Drouant. For a first course, beginning to slow down after days of over-indulgence yet still committed to not missing anything, we decided to share an appetizer of Les Classiques. It included small dishes of duck fois gras with port, a duck terrine, eggs in a homemade mayonnaise, and les poireaux en vinaigrette (leeks in vinaigrette).
It was this last dish that completely caught me off guard. The only color on the plate was a garnish of roasted red bell pepper, tossed in a vinaigrette that was drizzled over two, pale cylinders. I had forgotten what we had ordered and that first bite had me completely confused. Smoother in texture, but with a flavor similar to hearts of palm, I couldn’t figure out what I was eating. When I learned that it was braised leeks, I wasn’t any less confused.
Leeks? Like this? I’d sautéed leeks before for soups and even a savory bread pudding, but I never thought they could stand so proudly on their own. Intrigued, upon returning home, they became one of the first things I craved and when I went to look them up I was astonished by the sheer number of recipes. Braised leeks served with a vinaigrette, garnished au mimosa (with a crumbled hard-boiled egg), or even browned under a broiler with parmesan or fresh breadcrumbs were just some of the variations I stumbled upon. Regardless of their unique ingredients, all the recipes for braised leeks were remarkable for their sheer simplicity. The French proving yet again, that when you honor and treat each ingredientwith the utmost care, it can’t help but be delicious.
Braised Leeks with Champagne Vinaigrette topped with Hard Boiled Egg - Braised Leeks with Champagne Vinaigrette topped with Hard Boiled Egg
This makes a delicious first course. At Restaurant Drouant, they serve this dish topped with chopped roasted red bell pepper and that would make a delicious variation in place of the hard-boiled egg. I used champagne vinegar for the vinaigrette, but any light vinegar would be as good.
My leeks were short and stumpy forcing me to use more of the green part then I would have liked. Look for small leeks with stalks that are mostly white for the tenderest final product.
For the leeks:
5 to 6 leeks, preferably small
1 1/2 tablespoons of good quality butter
Salt, to taste
1/2 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1/8 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon safflower oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
For this recipe, you only want to use the white and very light green part of the leek. Cut the roots off the leek and discard. Remove the green stalks. Wash and reserve the green stalks for flavoring stocks and soups if desired.
Small leeks typically don’t have much dirt, but larger leeks can carry a lot of grit between their leaves. For best results (and non-gritty leeks), cut the leeks in half lengthwise but don’t cut all the way through. Rinse the leek under cold running water; carefully peeling back the layers to rinse away any dirt.
Place the leeks in a small saucepan and add the butter and salt. Pour enough water over the leeks to just cover them. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a strong simmer and place a lid over the saucepan leaving just enough space for steam to escape. Braise for at least thirty minutes or until leeks can be pierced easily with a knife. Remove the leeks from the braising liquid and allow to drain.
In a small bowl, whisk together the champagne vinegar and dijon mustard. Whisk in the safflower oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the leeks and garnish with the chopped egg. Serve immediately.