Braised Leek and Bacon Bisque

I have a huge crush on Jacques Pépin.  Do you know this dude? If not, check him out.  It is mesmerizing to watch him prep vegetables.  Anyway, he’s passionate about not letting stuff go to waste, and because of this, I think he might fancy my Braised Leek and Bacon Bisque. I use two parts of the leek, and any leftover trimmings can be cleaned and frozen, and tossed into a pot the next time you make stock.

Anyhow,  the leeks are braised with a bit of bacon fat and a lemon thyme stock, pureed, and then topped with crispy fried leeks.  It is mighty tasty!

Braised Leek and Bacon Bisque

For the Bisque:

  • 1/4 pound bacon, diced (about 4 slices)
  • 3 large leeks
  • 3 cups chicken stock, homemade if available
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
  • 1 tablespoon lemon thyme (or regular thyme)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Prepare the leeks. Trim the root and dark green ends and set the trimmings aside- you’ll use them for the garnish. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, but do not cut all the way through the root end- the leek halves should still be connected at the base. Rinse the leeks under running water, fanning out the layers to rinse away any dirt that might be trapped there. Set the leeks aside.
  3. Fry the diced bacon in a small dutch oven (3-4 quart) over medium-low heat, until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
  4. Transfer 1-2 teaspoons of the rendered bacon fat to a 9×9 inch baking or gratin dish and use a pastry brush to grease the pan with the hot bacon fat. Save the remaining bacon fat for another day.
  5. Add one cup of chicken stock to the empty dutch oven and turn the heat up to high. Bring to a boil and scrape up the good crusty bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Turn off the heat. Stir in the smashed garlic clove and chopped lemon thyme.
  6. Place the cleaned leeks in the greased baking dish. Sprinkle with kosher salt, pepper, and the crispy bacon. Pour the chicken stock mixture over the leeks. Cover the baking dish with foil, and place in the oven to braise for 30 minutes.
  7. After the first 30 minutes, use tongs to flip the leeks over to the other side and recover with foil. Braise for an additional 30 minutes, or until the leeks are very tender.
  8. Meanwhile, make the fried leek garnish (recipe below).
  9. Remove the baking dish from the oven and let cool briefly. During the cooling time, add the remaining two cups of stock to the dutch oven you used earlier and bring to a simmer over low heat.
  10. Puree the leeks and braising liquid in a blender along with a ladle-ful of the stock from the dutch oven. (I know it seems weird to puree bacon, but trust me on this! You’ll have tiny bacon particles dancing through your soup- it’s awesome!) Transfer the puree to the dutch oven with the rest of the simmering stock. Bring the soup to a simmer, and then remove from heat. Stir in the heavy cream and lemon juice, and add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fried leeks.

For the Fried Leek Garnish:

  • leek trimmings, leftover from making the bisque
  • 2-4 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  1. While the leeks are braising, prepare the fried leek garnish.
  2. From the tops of the leeks that you trimmed earlier, remove the outer layers until you get to the lighter green, more tender center.  Slice these tender bits thinly, lengthwise, so that you’re left with little strips of leek. These should be about 2 inches in length, so cut them in half if need be.  Rinse these to get rid of any sand, then pat dry. 
  3. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until shimmery. Toss the leeks and the flour in a small bowl.  Shake off any excess flour and drop the leeks into the hot oil.  Fry until the leeks just begin to turn golden- they should still be mostly green. Remove from the skillet and drain on paper towels, and sprinkle immediately with salt.

Chestnut Bisque with Candied Pancetta

A couple weeks ago, Andy and I went to Boston for our annual trip to participate in the MIT Mystery Hunt.  We had a blast!  One of the highlights of the trip came, for me, on Sunday night after the hunt had ended.  We joined a group of our charming NPL friends for dinner at the incredible Gargoyles on the Square in Somerville, MA.  Now, we had heard that this place had the best martinis in the Boston-area, and so I assumed it was a bar (I mean, it’s called ‘Gargoyles’, after all).  I was surprised and utterly delighted when we were ushered into a private dining room and I was handed a menu that listed some of the most fun and original sounding dishes I’ve seen.

This recipe is my stab at recreating the absolutely extraordinary chestnut bisque I had at Gargoyles.  The bisque was served in a very large bowl with a wide rim.  An amaretto yogurt was smeared thickly on one third of the rim of the bowl, and three little towers of a truffled granola were piled atop the yogurt.  On top of each tower of granola was a quartered slice of candied pancetta.   To top it off, the whole bowl was set on top of a dainty branch of charred pine, so that you smelled the pine smoke while you were eating the bisque. It was so. much. fun. 

For the Bisque

  • 1 lb fresh chestnuts (roasting these will make your house smell incredible!)
  • 2 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
  • olive oil, to drizzle
  • kosher salt, to sprinkle
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced small
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced small
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste

For the Garnish

  • 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto
  • 4 slices pancetta, cut in quarters
  • 1 tablespoon real maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup granola

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.  
2. Roast the chestnuts.  People are always saying to slash an “X” through the chestnuts, but don’t do this! Instead, go with the Martha method of slicing almost all the way around the chestnut like you’re drawing the equator.  This will make peeling much easier! (You’ll note from the picture below that I learned this the hard way). Place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Add the two shiitake caps to the same baking sheet, drizzle the shiitakes with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Put the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
3. When the chestnuts are cool enough to handle, but still warm, remove the husks. Dice the chestnuts and shiitakes and set aside. (Leave the oven on for your candied pancetta!)
4. Melt the butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and celery and saute until  softened and lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in the roasted chestnuts and shiitakes, then broth. Increase heat to high; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
5. While the soup is cooking, prepare the garnish. 
6. For the Candied Pancetta, remove the parchment from the baking sheet you used to roast the chestnuts, line the baking sheet with foil, and set a wire rack on top.  Place the pancetta on the wire rack on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until the pancetta begins to brown. Remove the pan from the oven and brush the slices with maple syrup and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the pancetta is golden brown. Set aside.
7. For the Amaretto Yogurt, in a small dish, stir together the greek yogurt and amaretto and set aside.
8. Working in batches, transfer soup to blender and puree until smooth. Transfer back to the pot.
9. Stir cream into soup and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
10. To assemble, spread the yogurt on the rim of your bowls (see picture above), and set three piles of granola on the yogurt.  Balance a piece of candied pancetta on top, and enjoy!

Oh, and if you have access to a pine tree, cut off a few tiny branches and set them on fire.  Then snuff out the flame and set the smoking branch on a plate under your bowl of soup.  It’s really fun!