Poireau vinaigrette is the stuff of traditions, good traditions. It could be what your grandmother makes on a weeknight dinner, or the main starter at your local brasserie where Hachis Parmentier would most likely follow. Good, simple, cheap food that just sounds fancier with its name in French.
I have always had a thing for leek, as far as I can remember, steamed leek. Knowing it was called the poor man's asparagus only made me feel more emotionally attached to this humble and often undervalued vegetable that can give so much more than simply base for broth.
Poireau vinaigrette has been having a come-back though in fancier places, and each one of them has a twist on it : this is my favorite way of having it, boiled and roasted leek with undercooked egg yolk, toasted hazelnuts, and a brown butter vinaigrette (that your grandmother definitely wouldn't make). The charred leek and brown butter add some depth to the quite soft and bland canvas that is boiled leek.
For 2 people (as a starter or side)
- 4 big leeks or 6 smaller ones
- 5 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2tbsp lemon juice
- 2 boiled eggs (6 minutes)
- 50g toasted hazelnuts
Preheat your oven on high heat, at least 220°C.
Start by cleaning your leeks, and cutting them into logs of approximately the same size. Discard the green tougher leaves and keep them for broth. Boil half of the leeks in salted water for around 10 minutes or until soft but not mushy (test with a knife, it should go through with no resistance). Place the other half in the oven with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of oil. This could take up to 15 minutes, but you want the leek to brown on all sides so give it a little time and turn it around half-way through.
In the meantime, melt your butter on low heat and leave it there until it starts to take on a brown colour and deep nutty smell. At that point you should take it off the heat straight away and pour it into a cool (heat proof) bowl. Pour slowly and leave the burnt solids in the pan, keeping only the liquid magic stuff that is brown butter.
Add the honey and lemon juice in the bowl, season with salt and pepper. Toss the chopped hazelnuts in. Peel the eggs and chop those as well, you can choose to put the whole egg or simply the yolk in. Taste for sweetness, saltiness and acidity and adjust according to your own taste.
Once all the leeks are cooked and cooled (place them in the fridge to make that process faster), cut the logs in half and start peeling off the layer to form soft strings of leek as I did on the pictures. To keep it more traditional you could also simply place the logs whole or cut in half on the plate. You will find plenty of images of this by googling "poireau vinaigrette".
Then, simply pour the dressing on top and be generous, vinaigrette is after all the second most important component in this dish. Then eat what's left of it with a spoon or dip some bread in it, that's an order.