Sprung a Leek Transcript

The Kitchen

    [AB is looking through a photo album] You know, there's nothing like flipping through the old family album. Oh, look, this was taken right after I put Super Glue® in my sister's lip gloss. Oooh. Wonderful memories. But you know, people aren't the only people that have families. Vegetables have families too. Take, for instance, the allium family, the Barrymores of the larger lily clan. This family contains some of the most potent culinary players to ever tread the stage of world cuisine. Ah. Here's the big daddy himself, the globe onion.


GUEST: Onion (man with an onion head)

ONION: [waves his hands with the peace sign to a cheering crowd]

    [voice over] He's big, he's smelly, and he somehow manages to get himself written into just about every recipe on planet earth. Which is unfortunate, because if you ask me, he's a little one-dimensional. And he's a real pain in the eye to work with.

The Kitchen

    [turns the page] Oh, here's his pugilistic cousin, the stinking rose himself, garlic.

Boxing Rin

GUEST: Garlic (man with a garlic head) & Chicken (man in a chicken suit)

GARLIC & CHICKEN: [garlic bulb and chicken are boxing]

    [voice over] His pungent punch manages to knock out just about every ingredient he comes into contact with.

GARLIC: [wallops chicken which then hits the floor, garlic stands over it] Yeah! He's down. I'm the man!

The Kitchen

    Yeah, I'm getting a little burned out on this one, too. Ahh, here's her sister, the shallot.

Beauty Kitchen Parlor

GUEST: Shallot (woman with a shallot head)

SHALLOT: [is getting fawned over by chefs, one faints at the waving of her hand]

    [voice over] If you've ever tasted a shallot, think "red onion meets garlic". Very aromatic, very sensual, very popular with the boys in the white hats, if you get my meaning.

The Kitchen

    We'll save her for another show.
    Now while these alliums seem to constantly grab the spotlight, one member of the family waits in the wings for his big chance: the quiet, well-mannered allium porrum or the leek.

Outdoor Firework Display

GUEST: Leek (man in a leek suit)

LEEK: [dances a la Fred Astaire while firework go off in the background, duck eventually enters in to dance with him]

    Now, if Fred Astaire had been a vegetable, he definitely would have been a leek. The leeks possess a fine, sophisticated, smooth texture and flavor which isn't afraid to take center stage, but is gracious enough to share the glory with other ingredients. The leek is more versatile than either the onion or garlic, and its long, lean shape makes it easier to work with than any of the bulbs.

The Kitchen

    So stick around, won't you? Because we are going to celebrate the unsung hero of the allium family, the leek. Which isn't just in good taste, it's in ...

[cut to "Good Eats" theme]

Great Moments in Leek History – Ancient Times

    The leek was revered in ancient Sumeria, Egypt, and Assyria, where it was used as a cure for graying hair. There is no written record indicating whether the leeks were to be applied externally or internally.

Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA – 9:35 AM

    The most commonly held misconception about leeks is that they are the mature version of scallions, or green onions. This, of course, is not true. Scallions and green onions are just the immature, pre-bulb version of any of a wide variety of bulb onions. Leeks, they are a variety all to themselves. But they do have a lot of common elements with regular old onions. [cuts a leek near the root end and shows the cross section] They are constructed of many concentric circles or layers, and these are actually leaves that grow up together.
    Now, when shopping for these things, avoid bunches. You know, I don't like seeing that three very very different-looking leeks for sale for 79 cents. No. Always buy them loose, by the pound if you can. That way, you can get the same diameter for whatever dish you're working with. I like, kind of, one and one-half inches wide. That's kind of an ideal shape and size for me. Now when you're shopping, always look for a nice, tight skin here [points to the lower white half of the leek], and good, bright, crisp greens up here [points to the upper green, leaf-like end]. Perfect. [takes the leek he cute earlier] Guess I'll have to pay for that one.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    With the possible exception of spinach, I can't think of any vegetable that comes home from the grocery store with so much dirt on board than leeks. And the problem isn't just on the outside. Matter of fact, the outside is pretty easy. But you've got to remember that inside here—all those little layers as they grow—they push up through the soil, and they trap dirt and sand, meaning that this thing is probably dirtier on the inside than it is on the outside. Now an easy way to deal with that would simply to be to cut this up and then throw it in some water to wash it. But the idea of one of my knives going through gritty, nasty sand it's like ... it's like ...

THING: [scratches the surface of the refrigerator chalkboard making a very annoying noise]
AB: [grimacing] Yes, Thing, like that. Thank you.

    Luckily, there is a procedure to get us around this situation.
    First, we take our rinsed leek, and we move onto the cutting board. Step one: we will remove the root from the bottom of the bulb. We just barely want to take that off. Turn it around, and take off the heavy green part. Believe it or not ... [spreads the green leaves apart showing a lot of dirt] ... ewww. See how nasty we're talking about? Hmm? Hmm? Didn't I warn you?
    Now, take a close look at the leek itself. You can even see some dirt there. You see how it's not really round on the inside. It is, indeed, an ellipse. So what we are going to do is line it up so that the knife is looking right down at the corner of that ellipse. We'll split there and we'll move straight into some water and just swish. Yes. I said "swish". That's the only word I can think to describe this. Swish around for a little bit and then just let them float. And the water will make the leaves separate and the sand can drift away to the bottom of the sink. Just make sure you've got enough water so that the sand can get away from the leeks.
    Now once they've soaked for a while and are nice and clean, you can wrap them up in a little paper towel. There will be just enough moisture to keep them from drying out—which is good—and you can seal them up in a zip-top bag for easy refrigerator storage. Or if you like, you may take them directly to the out of doors and prepare my favorite leek application of all time ...

The Patio

... grilled, braised leeks. That's right –first we're going to grill them, and then we are going to braise them.

4 Large Leeks Trimmed &
    Cut Up In Half Lengthwise

    We will begin by cranking up our grill, so we've got a nice hot fire on one end, or one side, depending on your grill, and a nice cool end on the other, or at least not as hot.

    So, we will first lube up our leeks with a wee bit of bacon drippings. Leeks and bacon have a very strong affinity for one another. Just a bit of seasoning with kosher salt and then onto the grill. Make sure that you go cut side down. There.

2 Tbs. Bacon Drippings
Season with Kosher Salt

    Now what we're looking for are nice clear line marks on that—a good sear, but not any charring. Now on my grill that generally takes about six minutes. But if I were you, I'd start checking after about three, because every grill is different.

There are over 500 species of Alliaceae, the allium or lily family.

The Patio

    And now for the braising part of the program. Braising, of course, means to cook over low heat while sealed up in something like aluminum foil. So, take a nice big piece of foil, lay it on the back of your grill where the cooler area is, and just move your leeks over. Some will be more marked than others, and that's okay. Now we are going to add a little more flavor to the program by brushing on some balsamic vinegar. You could also use sherry vinegar if you wanted to. Aw, the heck with the brush and let's just drizzle.
    And now I'm just going to kind of reassemble these guys. Just lay them on top of each other. Remember, this is over the indirect heat, so the heat is not on in that portion of the grill, only up here. I'm going to fold those into a pouch. Just crimp tightly all the way around. There. Now, let this cook—indirect heat—for ten to twelve minutes or until the leeks are just barely softened.

The Kitchen

    Although grilled, braised leeks are excellent with just a few grinds of pepper, you could add a little bacon, or maybe some goat cheese, or some artichokes, or a nice little green salad, or maybe some roast chicken. In other words, the sky's the limit. But hey, that's how it is with leeks.

Great Moments in Leek History – Roman Empire

    Roman emperor and big-time loony tune Nero, ate leeks daily because he believed they would protect his fine singing voice. He munched so many he earned the nickname "Porrophagus", or "leek eater". Crazy though he may have been, he may have been right about the leeks, which were later used in early cough drops.

Welcome to Rome
Have a nice day.


Mama Mia's
Leek Cough Drops

Greasy Spoon Kitchen – San Antonio, Texas, 1929

    A short order cook—his name long erased by the ravages of time—accidentally dropped some onion slices into a container of batter, probably pancake batter. The clumsy oaf retrieves these coated rings, and then walks slowly to the trash. However, passing the fry pot, the cook is suddenly tickled by the notion of a possibility, and, perhaps, coaxed by the inexorable clockwork of evolution, decides to fry the onions rather than discard them.

The Kitchen

    The problem of course, moisture. Onions are packed with it. So when they're fried, and they sit for a couple of moments, a lot of moisture comes out of the onion forming a slimy layer between the crisp breading and the onion itself. So when you bite into it, the entire onion slides out like a dead salamander from a hollow stick. Mmm. Sounds good, doesn't it? This could of course have been avoided if that man had simply dropped leeks instead. But he didn't.

The "Pig Stand" of San Antonio, Texas is credited
with inventing the onion ring in 1929.

The Kitchen

    Here we have twelve ounces of leeks, trimmed of their roots and dark greens, and they've been cut into about half-inch wide rounds. And you'll notice that the layers—at least a few of the layers, two or three—are still connected on the inside. This is important because these layers will puff away from each other during frying, and that's going to lead to a crisper, lighter texture.

12 Ounces Leeks, Trimmed
    & Cut Into 1/2 Inch Rings

    Here in the breading station, we have 2 cups of all-purpose flour approximately 9.5 ounces mixed with two teaspoons of salt, and distributed in these two fine pans. [shows three baking pans arranged vertically, the first and third of which contain the flour-salt mixture, the middle holds the following] Here in the middle, 1.5 cups of cold cow's milk and one egg.

2 Cups All-Purpose Flour +
2 tsp. Salt

1 1/2 Cups Milk +
1 Beaten Egg

    The frying station now has three quarts of oil. You can use any vegetable oil—canola oil, safflower oil, or even sunflower oil, peanut oil—all would be fine, unless, of course, you're allergic to peanut oil. Our thermometer here needs to read 375, so we will put the spurs to that.

3 Qt. Oil
In A 5 Qt Dutch Oven

    When it comes to successful frying, you want to see three things. Proper prep of work flow, which we've got here. Two, you want to see good temperature control, which we're going to have here. And next, good, proper procedures. Oh, you don't think procedures matter? Okay, wise guy, come down here.
    Now you see that we've got a standard, three-bay breading station set up here. Dry, wet, dry. Now let's say that you're working over here in the dry station, right? And then you come over here and you work in the wet. Then you shove your hand over here in the dry, and you, you keep breading, back and forth, moving your food through, nice and, and simple, like this, right? Through it, through it, through it. And eventually, you're going to end up with something that. We in the kitchen world like to call "club hand". What does club hand look like? Well, club hand looks something like this [holds up his hand, which is coated with a thick, paste-like batter]. And it's mighty hard to work with club hand. Here's some examples:

  • [cut to a club hand trying to dial a number on a cellular telephone]

  • [cut to a club hand trying to write, and failing] Darn it!

  • [Cut to a club hand reaching out to pet Matilda, the dog] Hey, sweetie. There you go. [the club hand makes a mess, and Matilda doesn't look too excited either]

    As you can see, it's almost impossible to live a normal life with club hand. And all this can be prevented with the correct procedure, and that's what we're going to get into right now. But it'll be a little easier if you come over and watch from this side. [cut to a shot over AB's shoulder]. Oh, there you are. Let's cook!
    Now you notice that I have labeled gloves here. That's because glove 1 will be doing certain jobs while glove 2 does another. Dry, wet. Here we go. Hand 1 will move a nice big pile of our leek rings into the flour. Just a dusting. If the leek is wet at the end, you might see a little bit more. Now shake off all the excess, again with hand 1, as much as you can get off, and move into the milk-egg combo.
    Now this is where hand 2 comes into play. Making sure that everything is well-coated, and then scatter that into the flour. Now you can just shake this to cover, or you can cheat, which I often do, and break out a fork. Careful not to get it wet, staying under the flour. There we go, tossing around a bit.
    Now, since we've got a dry coat now on those, we can go back to using hand number 1. So I'm going to just lightly scoop those off, into the spider. Now we could just move them straight into the oil, but this is a little bit on the safer side.
    Now leeks aren't very big—not as big as onions—so these are going to cook really, really fast. I would check on them after about 30 seconds, and pull them after a minute, a minute to a half. If they turn dark brown, you won't like them.
[he pulls the leek rings out of the oil and moves them to a draining pan]
    That's what I'm talking about, light, crispy. You can see those delicate little layers, almost like puff pastry. And look, Mom, no club hands! That, my friends, is the power of the gloves.

The Kitchen

    These are very very, very very good. But, you know, leeks don't have to encroach on the onion's territory to justify their existence. There are dishes that have been invented specifically for them. Take, for instance, the famous yet infamous dish the French call vichyssoise.

Vichyssoise was introduced by French chef Louis Diat
around 1910 at the NY Ritz-Carlton.

Great Moments in Leek History – 640 A.D.

    The year: 640 A.D. The Welsh win a decisive battle over the Saxons, when, at the urging of a monk who would later be known as Saint David, the Welsh army placed leeks in their hats so as to identify each other. And thus was born – camouflage.

The Kitchen

GUEST: W, Equipment specialist

    To assemble your very own vichyssoise, just place a large saucepan, like this six-quart model over medium heat, and add three tablespoons of unsalted butter. And while that melts down, we will turn our attention to one pound of split leeks, that's three or four specimens. They're split just as they were for our grilling. But we won't stop there. We're actually going to lay the knife over, and slice this two more times, into kind of long pie wedge shapes, see. And then we will chop.

3 Tbs. Unsalted Butter

1 Pound Leeks

    Notice, I'm not crying. That's because leeks contain plenty of the sweet flavor elements of both garlic and onion, but few of the sulfur compounds that make onion-cutting such a chick flick. Not that there's anything wrong with chick flicks. It's just that ... Oh, never mind. When you get these all chopped, back to the pot.

    Leeks go into the pot along with a very heavy pinch of salt, at least a teaspoon's worth. That's going to help to pull moisture out of the leeks.

Heavy Pinch Kosher Salt

    Now, make sure your heat stays medium low, and after the initial hissing is over, you don't want to hear much more out of this pot. In other words, we want a sweat, not a sauté. If things are jumping around in there, the leeks are going to brown, and that will not taste good. All we really want to do is to cook out some moisture and soften this material. So keep the heat low, listen, and give them about twenty to twenty-five minutes.

In 1941, some French chefs tried to rename "vichyssoise" creme gauloise because of their dislike of the Vichy government.

    Now that our leeks are nice and soft and a good bit of the moisture has cooked out, we will go with the next layer of vegetation: fourteen ounces—that's about three—Yukon Gold potatoes, just peeled and chopped. That's going to provide not only flavor, but texture. But don't fool yourself. This isn't potato soup. It's a secondary player. 14 Ounces Yukon Gold
    Potatoes Peeled &
    We will also add one quart—that's four cups, two pints—vegetable broth. Now you can make your own, or you can use packaged. If you do, I like to go with the little kind that comes in cartons that's organic. I don't like the canned kind. It's got a cooked flavor that's usually too salty. 1 Quart Vegetable Broth

    Jack the heat up to medium high, bring this just to a boil, then back down the heat to a bare simmer. Put the lid on, and let it cook for 45 minutes. I know, seems like a long time, but believe me, you will be rewarded with a very, very fine texture.
    Let's see. Grab a potato here. [squeezes it with a pair of tongs, it breaks apart under gentle pressure] Yep, this soup is done. Now to purée. We could run this through a food mill, but that would be nasty, and would take a lot of time. Or we could run it through our bar blender, but that would be nasty, and take a lot of time. Or we could don our protective gear, and break out our faithful stick blender. [a metal stick blender, about four feet long, descends into his hands] Ha ha ha ha. I picked this one up at a local restaurant supply shop [starts it up, making a loud noise] Yeah, baby. Ha ha. That's the sound of 700 watts. Yeah.

W: Why is it that men always think it comes down to wattage? Don't you realize that when you evaluate the performance of an electrical appliance, that wattage is but one of the relevant factors, and it's not even that important?
AB: Wrong again, W. Every teenage boy with a car stereo knows, watts is where it's at!
W: Wattage is about the amount of electricity a system needs to run, not about the amount of work it can do. Nor does it indicate the quality of that work. Got it?
AB: Got what? Watts? Yeah, right here!
W: Pay attention, Alton!
AB: [put stick blender away] Okay.
W: A motor with a higher wattage rating might be able to consume more electricity than one with a lower rating. But that doesn't mean it'll do more work.
AB: Okay.
W: Now let's say for instance you attack that pot of soup of yours with a thousand-watt blender [A smaller, white blender descends.]
AB: There's no such thing as a thousand ... W, did you chop this yourself? This is custom work!
W: Ah, well, you know. I just did it in my spare time. I kind of ...
AB: I didn't know you had it in you. Eh, all right, stand back. Soup's going to fly. Heh heh heh heh hehhhh. [AB puts on his protective goggles, and tries to blend the vichyssoise with the stick blender, and fails, stops and turns to W] Okay, what gives?
W: See, you had a thousand watts, but lousy torque conversion. All show, no go.
AB: All show, no go. W, why don't we just cut to the part where you give me what I really need?
W: Fine, then I can be out of here faster.
AB: Excellent.

[A third blender descends]

W: Regardless of wattage, the best stick blenders have two speeds, buttons that are easily reachable. You want a long metal shaft, and a sturdy blade.
AB: That is pretty stout.
W: [pulses the blender]
AB: Hey, that's pretty quiet.
W: Mmm, insulated casing.
AB: Insulated casing, huh. All right. This is sweet. But, what about attachments?
W: If you take a great blender, and just put attachments on it, you're going to end up with a mediocre blender.
AB: All right. Well, how about, uh ... [is handed a cordless blender from off-camera] ... cordless?
W: Unless its gas or nuclear-powered, no! [exits]
AB: Okay. Bye-bye, Miss Happy. Knock next time. [looks at the cordless blender] Nuclear, huh? Nah, that's another show. Let's purée!

In the orient, leeks came to symbolize humility
because they were a food eaten by the poor.

Strange Leek Facts – Leek Pageants

    In parts of Northumberland, England, come September, many Men's Clubs hold leek pageants. Mmmm, lovely. The competition is fierce, and in the final days before judging, secret plots may be guarded by geezers with shotguns. Before judging, the leek greens are shampooed and the roots are carefully combed.

The Kitchen

    Now that our vegetation is smoothly puréed, thanks to a proper, nice long cooking time, we're going to add our finishing dairy. I like to go with a cup of heavy cream, and a cup of buttermilk. But, I'm going to add the cream to the buttermilk before introducing them into the pot. That way, the heat of the soup won't curdle the buttermilk, and it could happen. Here we go. 1 Cup Each
    Heavy Cream &
    Now as soon as that is in, we can go with our final spice, which is going to be one teaspoon of white pepper, finely ground. 1 tsp. White Pepper

Sussex folklore: "Eat leeks in March, garlic in May;
all the rest of the year, the doctors may play."

    Now, I'll just retrieve my favorite secret soup spoon here. I'm sure that you've probably got one of these in your kitchen, too. You know, in the wintertime I like my vichyssoise piping hot, with a nice little side of leek rings; get a little smooth and creamy, a little crunchy. It's a nice contrast. In fact, the only thing that could make this better ... [he puts the fried leek rings into the vichyssoise] Ha ha ha. Another innovation.
    In the summertime, however, I go in an incredibly different direction. I like my vichyssoise, or vicha-slaw, as I called it as a child, topped with chive, and deep, deep-chilled. Cheers! [drinks] Mmmm, leeky, and refreshing.
    You know, I am not trying to suggest that we should eradicate the rest of the members of the allium family: onions, garlic, shallots, or even scallions. I'm just asking you to make a little room in your crisper drawer, as well as your heart, for a kinder, gentler member of the allium family, the leek. Believe me, your family will thank you.
    See you next time, on Good Eats.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

Hit Counter

Last Edited on 08/27/2010