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CHEFS In Season Featuring Leeks: Leek Recipes, Tips, Information and more from CHEFS Catalog.
Featured Leek Recipes
About Leeks
The leek is one vegetable that is a recipes type-cast. Best known for its inclusion in vichyssoise, American kitchens typically use leeks in soups. We don’t think the poor leek will add much flavor to any other dish. However, leeks have a long and delicious history, including being a national emblem for Wales. This unassuming vegetable may resemble an overgrown scallion, but can hold its own in any recipe. With a sweet but mild onion flavor, leeks can add depth to soups and pies as well as adding crunch to a salad.

About Leeks

Leeks, known scientifically as Allium porrum, are related to garlic, onions, shallots, and scallions. Leeks look like a large scallions, having a very small bulb and a long white cylindrical stalk of superimposed layers that flows into green, tightly wrapped, flat leaves. Cultivated leeks are usually about 12 inches in length and one to two inches in diameter and feature a fragrant flavor that is reminiscent of shallots but sweeter and more subtle. Wild leeks, known as ramps, are much smaller in size, but have a stronger, more intense flavor. Ramps are available for a short period of time in early spring, and are often widely sought out at farmers markets when they are in season.

With a more delicate and sweeter flavor than onions, leeks add a subtle touch to recipes without overpowering the other flavors that are present. Although leeks are available throughout the year they are in season from the fall through the early part of spring, when they are at their best.

Leeks in History

Leeks enjoy a long and rich history, one that can trace its heritage back through antiquity. Thought to be native to Central Asia, they have been cultivated there and in Europe for thousands of years. Dried specimens have been found at archaeological sites in ancient Egypt indicating the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet. Leeks were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans and were especially revered for their beneficial effect upon the throat.

The Romans are thought to have introduced leeks to the United Kingdom, where they were able to flourish because they could withstand cold weather. The leek was the favorite vegetable of the Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or in oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice.

Leeks have attained an esteemed status in Wales, where they serve as this country's national emblem. The Welsh regard for leeks can be traced back to a battle that they successfully won against that Saxons in 1620, during which the Welsh soldiers placed leeks in their caps to differentiate themselves from their opponents. Today, leeks are an important vegetable in many northern European cuisines and are grown in many European countries.

Leeks Selection

Leeks are usually sold in bunches, generally about four leeks to a bunch. Look for unpackaged leeks with the roots and dark green leaves intact, which give them longer life. Packaging in plastic promotes rot.

Look for straight, firm stalks with unblemished white bottoms and bright green leaves. Avoid leeks with very dark green tops or rounded (rather than flat) bottoms, which can be signs that the vegetable is overgrown, old, or both. Smaller leeks are the tenderest.

Good quality leeks will not be yellowed or wilted, nor have bulbs that have cracks or bruises. Select leeks with a clean white slender bulb, at least two to three inches of white, and firm, tightly-rolled dark green tops. The base should be at least 1-/2 inch in diameter, although most are much larger, usually 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches. Since overly large leeks are generally more fibrous in texture, look for those that have a diameter of one and one-half inches or less. Try to purchase leeks that are of similar size so as to ensure more consistent cooking if you are planning on cooking the leeks whole.

Check the center of the leek for a seed stalk (the hard stalk can sometimes can be felt with a gentle squeeze) and avoid any you find. Those with a seed stalk beginning will have a tough, woody center. Avoid leeks that are limp.

Leek Storage

Fresh leeks should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator, where they will keep fresh for between one and two weeks. Leeks will exude an aroma that can be absorbed by other things in your refrigerator. They are best stored lightly wrapped in plastic wrap, to contain the odor and moisture, and kept in the product drawer of the refrigerator.

Depending on the freshness factor when you buy them, leeks can be stored anywhere from five days up to two weeks. Cooked leeks are highly perishable, and even when kept in the refrigerator, will only stay fresh for about two days.

Leeks are unfortunately not a good candidate for freezing or canning unless you plan on using them in soups or other recipes rather than as a main dish. Freezing tends to turn them to mush and lends a bitter taste. If you decide to freeze leeks, cut into slices or whole lengths. Seal in airtight bags, freeze, and use within three months. To preserve flavor, do not thaw before cooking further. Use frozen cooked leftovers for soup within three months.

Leek Cleaning and Preparation

Remove any tired or damaged outer leaves. Leeks should be trimmed and cleaned thoroughly before you use them, as the green shoots push up from the ground, dirt can become lodged between their thin layers. Cut away the dark green parts and the hairy root end, where most of the dirt is. Slice lengthwise about two inches up from each end, leaving a center portion intact to hold the leek together. Rinse under running cold water while separating leaves.

To prepare leeks to be sliced or chopped, trim off the root end and about ¼-inch of the white base. Remove any ragged, coarse outer leaves and discard. Trim each of the darkest portion of the leaves down to the light green, more tender portion, leaving about 2 inches of green. The dark green trimmed leaves can be reserved for use in stock.

Leek Equivalents and Measures

  • 2 leeks = 1 side dish serving
  • ½-cup cooked = 1 serving
  • 2 pounds leeks = 1 pound cleaned
  • 2 pounds leeks = about 4 cups chopped
  • 2 pounds leeks = 2 cups cooked chopped
  • 1 pound leeks = 2 cups chopped
  • 1-1/4 pounds leeks = 2 large leeks
  • 1-1/4 pounds leeks = 3 medium leeks

Leek Cooking Tips

The edible portions of the leek are the white base of the leaves (above the roots and stem base), the light green parts, and to a lesser extent the dark green parts of the leaves. The dark green portion is usually discarded because it has a tough texture, but they can be sautéed or added to stock. A few leaves are sometimes tied with twine and other herbs to form a bouquet garni.

Undercooked leeks are tough and chewy and overcooked leeks can take on an undesirable slimey texture. Cook until just tender, testing by piercing the base with a knife. Braising in a moderate oven will take anything from 10 to 30 minutes depending on size. They can also be boiled or steamed.

When cooking leeks as a side dish, it is important they not be overcooked. Overcooking will turn them into a slimy, unappetizing pile of mush. They should be cooked until tender but still exert a little resistance when pierced.

In general, leeks can be substituted for onions in most dishes using onions for flavoring. Unless you use a very mild sweet onion or perhaps green onions, substituting onions for leeks will result in a much stronger flavor which might be detrimental to the intent of the original dish.

Perhaps Vichyssoise, a cold pureed potato leek soup, is the most famous leek dish. You may be surprised to learn that contrary to its name, this dish is an American creation, albeit by a French chef. It was created by Chef Louis Diat in New York City's Ritz Carlton Hotel. He created the cold soup for summer around 1900, inspired by boyhood memories of asking his mother for cold milk to add to hot soup to cool it off enough to eat.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas
  • Raw leeks may be sliced thin and added to salads.
  • Leeks partner well with veal, cheese, chicken, ham, fish and seafood.
  • Complimentary herbs and spices include chervil, parsley, sage, thyme, basil, lemon, and mustard.
  • Sauté leeks and fennel then garnish with fresh lemon juice and thyme.
  • Make vichyssoise, a cold soup made from puréed cooked leeks and potatoes.
  • Add leeks to broth and stews for extra flavoring.
  • Add sliced leeks to your favorite omelet or frittata recipe.
  • Slow braising or gentle grilling to bring out its sweet yet complex flavor.

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