The name Vichy seems to have made an impression in my mind after seeing the movie Casablanca, set during World War II with German-occupied France, non-German occupied France or Vichy France, and the strong current of French patriotism that runs through. I saw Casablanca at about the same time-period when a good friend of mine from New Jersey in graduate school introduced me to the American chef, Julia Child who popularized French cooking in America. And, one of the first recipes we discussed from her book was for a soup called, vichyssoise. It just sounded so French, especially in the backdrop of the movie.
To the best of my knowledge when in France I could find no sign of a soup called vichyssoise, quite consistent with Julia Child’s remark that it might be an American invention1, one of the few, if not the only one of its kind that makes its way into her classic French cookbook. Here is a method to make a simple version of the soup adapted from Julia Child’s cookbook:1
Water or chicken stock
Wash and clean the potatoes and leeks - I used an equal proportion of potatoes and leeks. Peel the skin from the potatoes and cut into medium-sized pieces. Cut the leeks into small pieces using mostly the white and some of the green part. Add the cut potatoes and leeks into a heavy bottom pan and add enough water or stock to cover the vegetables. Add salt to taste. Simmer for about 40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Strain the vegetables from the liquid, and purée. Add the purée back to the pan, and add enough cooking liquid to reach the desired consistency. Just before serving, add some butter to attain a silkier texture and richer flavor. Alternatively, just plain good milk or eggs beaten with a generous amount of milk could be used towards the end to finish the soup. Check for seasoning. The soup can also be served cold making it summer appropriate.
While I couldn’t find vichyssoise in France, I did find soups with a potato and leek base, only they had a different name in keeping with old French cookbooks. Potage Parmentier or velouté Parmentier is just that, a soup named as a tribute to the man who popularized potatoes in France in the late 18th century, and is made of potatoes, leeks, butter or rich milk.
Why the potage Parmentier is called by the very French sounding name, vichyssoise, outside of France, remains unclear. And, what does it mean when there are similar soups in composition and preparation that tell a different story because of their different names?
1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1) by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
In writing this blog post, I was thinking of my friend's reference to vichyssoise as a soup he recalls his mother making and serving him chilled. So, I found it, strikingly, more than a coincidence when in an attempt to answer a reader's comment I came across a 1950 New Yorker article entitled "Diat" by Geoffrey T. Hellman that describes chef Diat's 1917 reminiscence of his childhood days in France when he and his brother enjoyed mixing cold milk into the potato and leek purée made by his mother and grandmother to drink during the summers.