Leeks are lovely and delicious, but when you look under the hood you discover their dark side. They are full of gritty dirt that has to be washed away completely before you can cook with them. If you’ve ever tasted a dish with leeks that weren’t thoroughly cleaned, you know the tell-tale crunch, the hard swallow (or spit into your napkin), the rather immediate waning of appetite that follows.
Getting leeks squeaky clean doesn’t have to take forever, and shouldn’t dissuade you from cooking with them, especially the mouth-watering leeks in olive oil we’re making this week.
At Tante Marie’s, we learned some great ways to handle leeks. To clean them, slice off the dark green ends just at the point where the leek’s light green shading starts to turn dark. The goal here is to stay with the tender layers and away from the tough. Slice off most of the root end, leaving enough there to keep the layers intact. Then slice through the leek lengthwise to through the root end. Run the leek under cool water, opening the layers to flush out the grit. Then proceed with cutting the leeks in whatever way needed. Be sure to rinse your cutting board before returning with the clean leeks, because undoubtedly there is grit on it.
Frances, our instructor at school, showed us a clever way to make use of the dark green ends of leeks. They work well to keep a bouquet garni together—that being the little herb packet of parsley, thyme, and bay leaf that flavors everything from stocks to soups and stews. Often you have more herbs than you are going to use in any given recipe, but they can be tied up using kitchen string around the leek ends as an outer wrapper, with the herbs within. Freeze the bouquet garni for use anytime you may need. I used up the parsley and thyme from my garden (with dried bay leaves) and felt righteous about getting at them before the frost does (we are already hitting 30 degrees at night up here).
If you are reading this saying to yourself that hell’s going to freeze over before you’d use your time to tie up little packets like this, well, I respect your sanity.