I hate to generalize, but aside from body-checking anyone in their path, there are other ways that Parisians are different than Americans.
If you don’t believe me, ask some of the friends I traveled with recently, who have the bumps and bruises to prove it after a plane arrived from Paris and the dining room where we vacationed turned into a game of human pinball.
(But don’t ask Deb about how one fine day, her corner of peaceful tranquility on the beach ended up with her being suddenly surrounded by a mass of noisy new arrivals, who didn’t seem to mind arranging their chairs all around her…when the rest of the three mile-long beach was completely deserted.)
When I lived in America, it was rare to find leeks. Some of you out there in the states are probably thinking; “Leeks? Aren’t those the fancy onion-like things at the supermarket that are expensive?”
They may cost more than yellow onions, depending on where you live. But here in France, leeks are cheap and plentiful. And used often. When I told Romain that leeks weren’t widely-used in America, he was really surprised, since even the most lowly produce vendor sells leeks and just about everyone at my market seems to have a few sticking out of their market basket.
Anyhow, we Americans do have our green onions (or scallions, as they’re sometimes called) and we use them a lot. They’re cheap, often just two or three bunches cost a buck, but they’re almost impossible to find in France. I think it’s perhaps because we use them raw quite a bit and the harsh taste might be a bit overwhelming. You don’t see too raw onions being served in France as much as you do in the states.
Some people may find leeks intimidating, but I’ve started using them a lot more since I’ve moved to France and love their sweet, mellow taste, and use them much more than yellow onions in my cooking. They do require a bit more preparation, but you don’t have to deal with those papery skins flying all over your kitchen, whichI think is a pretty decent trade off.
The best way to cook leeks is to “sweat” them, which means cooking them in butter and/or oil over pretty low heat until they get soft, but not browned. The French call this fondu, or “melted.” I use part butter, part olive oil, because although the butter adds a wonderful flavor, it can burn if cooked for a long time. So using some oil helps. If you have clarified butter, you could use that, but I don’t keep that on hand.
How To Prepare Leeks
1. To prepare leeks, cut off and discard the dark green parts that are tough. Or you can wash and use them for stock-making.
2. Trim off the little beards at the bottom.
3. Take a chef’s knife and made a horizontal slice lengthwise. Don’t cut through the end, where the beard was, though. Rotate the leek, and make another lengthwise slice, creating a cross-hatch patter if looking at it from the cut end.
4. Run the leeks under cold water, or better yet, swirl them around in a basin of water to remove any grit. Some leeks are really dirty and others are pretty clean. So you may need to rinse them in a few changes of water.
(Another technique it to cut the leek into pieces first, and swirl them in water to remove the grit, then drain them well.)
5. Afterward, towel-dry the leeks and cut them into rounds.
I use leeks as a base for soup and braises and once you do, you’ll find your foods have much more flavor for just a little extra work.
On another cooking-related note, one of the best food blogs just got even better. Simply Recipes has a brand-new design, by Jesse of Plasticmind, who redesigned my site. The new layout is simply fantastic and it’s now even easier to navigate one of the best resources for recipes on the web.