I always go for comfort food, but there are times when I want my vegetables to be a bit more stilettos than sweat pants.
Enter the leek.
The unsung heroe of French food. Any stock, any soup, any sauce—should have a sign graffitied across the plate, “leeks were here!”. Their leaves are used in bouquet garni, tied and bound, then thrown away. They are braised in sauces, then strained out. And thrown away. They are simmered in stocks, with bones, and peppercorns. And then thrown away. For every ten times you’ve tasted a leek, maybe they’ve actually crossed your lips once. It’s a crying shame.
Every once in a very long while, when leeks are the star of the show, and get their day in the sun, they are in that single, solitary moment highbrow, exotic, and very French. Leeks have the mild onion flavor of a shallot, but less sweet, and a bit more vegetal with a hint of celery. Hearty in constitution, but delicate in flavor. I love to shred them superfine and toss them in flour, and then fry them until they’re frizzled, and pile them high on top of seared steaks or crisp fishes. This version is a step up from that, thick strands of leeks soaked in buttermilk and coated in an onion-ring breading of flour and cornmeal. I fry them until they are crisp, and season them with salt, and maybe a pinch of piment d’Espelette. I like them as an appetizer, with a wedge of lemon. Or on the side of a light grilled steak. They soften, and caramelize, and are crisp and soft and sweet and salty at once. To be blunt, they are delicious. A treasure, buried at the bottom of your stockpot, or garbage can.
To everything there is a season. And I believe the leeks shall inherit the earth.
Excerpted from my weekly column Franglais on The Huffington Post.
serves 2 to 4
- 1 leek, cut into thick strips
- ⅓ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- Canola oil for frying
Leave the leeks to soak for 15 minutes in the buttermilk. Meanwhile, mix together the flour, cornmeal, and salt. Fill a cast iron skillet with 1 inch of canola oil, and heat it to 375°F.
Allow the excess buttermilk to drip away, and dredge the leeks, individually, in the flour mixture. Fry in small batches until crisp and golden brown, from 1 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with extra salt.
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