Belonging to the lily family, the leek (Allium porrum) shares the same genus as garlic and some onions.
While leeks have long been associated with the Welsh and as early as the twelfth century they wore the leek emblem on their hats, there is evidence to show that as far back 2500BC, leeks were being cultivated in Sumer – an ancient civilization that was located in Mesopotamia or what is now known as southern Iraq.
Leeks are a versatile vegetable, with a similar, but milder flavour to onions, for which they can easily be substituted.
Availability: At The Chef’s Garden at Epicurean we grow a variety of leek called King Richard, these are an early leek with a particularly long, elegant and tender stem – the white part of the stem can be over 30cm, making for a leek with a lot of edibleness. Also because of their tall, upright habit there is less tendency for dirt to get trapped between the leaves making them easier to clean. At The Chef’s Garden at Epicurean our first leeks become available in autumn and are around for most of the cooler months.
Goes with: anchovies; bacon; butter; cheese – many different types including blue, Gruyère and goat’s; chicken; cream; eggs; fish; garlic; ham; mustard; olive oil; parsley; pastry; and potatoes.
SELECTION, STORAGE, PREPARATION & USING
- Selection: Look for leeks that have a good amount of white stalk, crisp green tops without split or discoloured outer leaves.
- Preparation: Before cooking leeks, the most important thing is to make sure that they are clean and free of any dirt trapped between the leaves – nothing soils a finished dish more than a mouthful of grit and dirt. The easiest way to clean leeks is to cut them into slices, place in a bowl of clean water and swirl to remove dirt. Using slotted spoon carefully remove washed leeks and drain well – repeat this procedure, if necessary, until all dirt is removed.Another popular way to clean leeks is to remove excess green tops and the outer layers of the leeks, then to stand them upside down in a tall jug and jar of water – this is a good method if you want to cook the leeks whole.
- Storage: Do not clean before storing in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. To improve storage cut off any excess green top. Properly stored, leeks can keep for several months.
- Using: Leeks can be boiled, steamed, stewed or sautéed and are a vegetable that should be eaten cooked, not raw.Well known leek dishes include Leek and Potato Soup, which when eaten cold is called Vichyssoise and the Scottish soup Cook-a-Leekie – this soup consisting of beef shin, chicken, leeks and prunes, looks sensational and is a warm and comforting winter meal.
- Buttery leeks: Australian chef Stephanie Alexander says in her book, The Cook’s Companion, Penguin Lantern, 2004, “This essential leek preparation is sometimes called ‘fondue of leeks…” it has a multitude of uses from omelette, crepe or pasty filling to an addition to scramble eggs. It is also excellent as a simple side dish or a bed for simply grilled meat, chicken or fish. Slice, wash and drain 6 leeks, then dry well. Melt 60g butter in a frying pan over a medium heat, add leeks, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until leeks are very tender. Remove cover, increase heat and cook to evaporate any excess liquid. Season with a good grind of sea salt and black pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg.
Recipes using leeks:
- Roasted Potatoes, Leeks & Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
- Sautéed Brussels Sprouts & Leeks with Bacon
- Harissa Chicken Roasted on Capsicums & Leeks
- Roast Chicken, Fennel, Leeks & Potatoes with Lemon
- Leeks & Asparagus à la Grecque
- Kingfish with Leeks, Lime and Coriander
- Smoked Fish, Leek & Potato Chowder
- Lamb’s Kidneys in Leek & Mustard Sauce
- Free-from Bacon, Leek & Egg Pie
- Fennel, Leek & Lemon Risotto
- Cavolo Nero, Leek & Mustard Colcannon