I first made these a few years ago, after coming across a recipe on Smitten Kitchen. The leeks were actually just a side dish to a chicken recipe that I wanted to try, so even though at that point I had never, ever had leeks before I decided to make them too because they looked great and had such a glowing review on that site that I wondered if I had been missing something all my life...and sure enough I was! That particular chicken recipe didn't make it on to my list (but if you want to check it out, here is my brief review: pretty good, but way too much work for the end product) however those leeks are something I cannot get enough of!
So if you've never braised a leek, I highly suggest you try it. I don't even know how to accurately describe them. Braising brings out a subtle sweetness and mellows the onion flavor. They are just a-mazing. They make a great side dish for just about anything, and are equally fantastic on their own. I'm sure there are other ways to enjoy leeks but I kind of don't want to know them because I just want to eat braised ones forever and ever. We had them last night with another new chicken recipe that won't be making it on to my list, so I was happy I had these leeks to override any disappointment.
Leeks holding up the disappointing chicken. Looks good, it just wasn't. Thank goodness for the leeks!
So what are you waiting for? Go get yourself some leeks!
from Smitten Kitchen (I'm posting the recipe direct from the site, with my notes here. I always switch it up a little depending on what I have on hand)
6 large leeks
About 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (though I always skimp and use less)
1 cup sliced shallots (I've used onion and it works just as well)
1 Tbsp. thyme leaves (use fresh ones if you can!)
1/2 cup dry white wine (I've also subbed dry sherry)
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water (I know its an option, but don't use water. Just don't.) kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Remove any bruised outer layers from the leeks. Trim off to the roots, leaving the root end intact. Trim the tops of the leeks on the diagonal, leaving 2 inches of the green part attached. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and submerge in a large bowl of cold water to clean them. Shake the leeks well to dislodge the dirt stuck inside. Let them sit a few minutes, to allow any grit inside the layers to fall to the bottom of the bowl. Repeat the process until the water is clean. Place the leeks, cut side down, on a towel and pat dry completely.
**(Yes, this step is a pain! It always shocks me how dirty these things are, so if I am willing to go through all the trouble of cleaning them then you know they have to be good!)
3. Turn the leeks over so their cut sides are facing up, and season with 2 teaspoons salt and a few grindings of black pepper.
4. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil, and wait 1 minute. Place the leeks in the pan, cut side down, being careful not to crowd them. (you will probably need to saute them in batches or in two pans. Add more olive oil to the pan as needed, for each batch.) Sear them 4 to 5 minutes, until they are golden brown. Season the backs of the leeks with salt and pepper, and turn them over to cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer them to a large gratin dish, lining them up, cut sides facing up.
5. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until the shallots are just beginning to color. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Add 1 1/2 cups stock, and bring to a boil over high heat.
6. Pour the liquid over the leeks. The stock should not quite cover them; add more stock if necessary.
7. Braise in the oven 30 minutes, until the leeks are tender when pierced.