The humble potato. One of the most versatile veggies in the pantry and for some parts of Europe during the 1800’s was one of the most important. Between 1845 and 1852 a strain of potato blight called Phytophthora infestans wiped out much of this affordable crop, on which two fifths of Ireland’s population was solely reliant. So central to Irish culture was this grubby little earth apple that during the time of the Great Potato Famine 25% of the countries population either perished from starvation or emigrated to other parts of the world.
The famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland and its effects permanently changed the islands demographic, political and cultural landscape. It entered into folk memory and became a rallying point for various movements that opposed the current British rule of Ireland, massively souring the already strained relations between the common Irish people and the British crown. This had the effect of heightening Irish Republicanism which eventually lead to Irish independence in the following century. All of this over some little ‘ole dirt berries? There aren’t too many foods in the cupboard that can boast similar claims to historical relevance than our dear spuds.
Every chef worth their salt has a great potato dish up their sleeve. Even, it seems that the technique for the humble plate of mashed potato can become a hotly debated subject amongst chefs of differing backgrounds. And of course everyone’s mother made ‘the best’ roasted spuds in the land!
While the potato, or lack of, inadvertently caused the people of Ireland to rise up against their English overlords, in neighbouring Wales, the mighty leek was also doing its bit to cast down the chains of English oppression (seriously did anyone like the English back in the day before America came along and stole their thunder?). Patron saint of Wales, Saint David, took this oddly phallic vegetable as his personal symbol after he is said to have had a troop of Welsh soldiers wear leeks during a battle to help them distinguish themselves from their similarly dressed English enemies.
So if ever there was a dish of stronger anti-English sentiment and civil unrest then I would like to hear it. The combination of these two symbols of independence from two countries that battled their oppressors is a veritable ‘fuck you cocktail’ to be forced down the throat of the bloated English monarchy that for a time ruled much of the known world. So here is my own take on the ‘fuck you cocktail’ more commonly known as Leek and Potato soup. Enjoy.
Leek and Potato Soup
- 100g leeks
- 600g dutch cream potato peeled and chopped evenly
- 10g garlic chopped
- 2g thyme
- 2T olive oil
- 30g butter
- 600g chicken stock (sub veggie stock for vegetarian)
Sweat the leeks on a low temperature in butter and olive oil until very fragrant and soft, ensuring that you do not colour the leeks during cooking. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a further 2 minutes on low. Add all the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 50 mins or until the potato is very soft. Transfer the soup to a blender and blitz until smooth adding more water if necessary to achieve the consistency you like (I like mine really thick). Season with salt and reserve until you are ready to serve.
sous vide Leeks
- 1 leek
- 2 Tblsp olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
Bring a pot of water to the boil. Cut the leek (white part only) into 3-4 cm long sections. Mix with the oil and salt and then placing two sections side by side, wrap tightly in cling film. Drop the leeks into the boiling water and reduce the pot to a simmer. Cook for roughly 20mins until the leeks are very soft.
- ½ a dutch cream potato peeled
- oil for deepfrying
Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife slice the potato as thinly as possible. Wash thoroughly under cold running water for at least 2minutes to remove most of the starch. Heat your oil to 180ºc. Dry the slices on a paper towel and fry your potato until golden and crispy. Tip onto a new paper towel to drain the excess oil and season lightly with salt.
Reheat the soup to a boil and divide evenly between two bowls. Unwrap your poached leeks being careful to keep them intact and place them into the soup so that the tops are still exposed. Sprinkle a few of your potato crisps on top and then I hit mine with a few drops of truffle paste (truffle oil will do fine here also).
There you have it, a delicious bowl of velvety rebellion, thumbing its nose at English imperialism.