Vichyssoise with chilli crab

A lightened up version of the classic leek and potato soup, made interesting with the addition of spicy crab.


Let’s get one thing out of the way: vichyssoise is a ridiculously grandiose name for leek and potato soup. The story goes that Louis Diat, a chef at The Ritz in New York, named it after Vichy in France where he had eaten it for breakfast, so we have 1930s upselling to blame.

I first encountered vichyssoise on the menu of a tiny bakery cafe I lived near as a student. Of course, as a kid from the suburbs living in the big city, I thought its fancy French name was the height of sophistication. Times change, and now I think it would make a good name for a drag queen: Vichy Soise.

Over the years, my own vichyssoise has developed a distinct leaning towards the leek end of the spectrum. Because leeks come in all sort of sizes, I have specified weights below, which work out to about 3 medium leeks and one medium potato. The cream of Louis Diat’s original has gone, replaced with lighter and more desirably tangy Greek yoghurt.

Soup can be monotonous to eat – not always a bad thing – so here I have livened things up with a mound of fresh crab meat, dressed with some lime juice and my favourite chilli paste, sambal oelek.

Vichyssoise can be served warm or cold, as you like. I like to chill it then take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving so that it’s still cool but not so cold that you can’t taste it. That’s more than enough time to get the crab together, letting it “cook” in the lime juice and the other flavours develop in the delicate meat.

Vichyssoise with chilli crab

Serves 2.

for the soup:
350g (12 oz) leeks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
175g (6 oz) potato
2 cups chicken stock
½ cup Greek yoghurt
sea salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper

for the crab:
150g (1 cup) crab meat
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
1 tablespoon coriander (cilantro), chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice

Trim the dark green leaves off the leeks and discard. Slice the white and pale green parts in half lengthways and cut into 1cm (about ½ inch) pieces. Put all the pieces in a colander, rinse well under cold running water, and drain.

Warm the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks, then cook slowly until very soft and cooked right down. Stir occasionally, taking care not to let them colour.

Peel and roughly dice the potato and add to the leeks. Add the stock, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, partly covered, for about 20 minutes until the potato is fork tender. Remove from the heat, uncover and leave to come to room temperature.

If you have an immersion (stick) blender, you can puree the soup directly in the pan until very smooth. Otherwise, puree in a standing blender, in batches if necessary, until very smooth. (For truly silky smoothness, push the soup through a chinois.)

Stir in the yoghurt until well combined. Taste and season with salt and pepper, and refrigerate until required.

To make the crab, combine the crab, olive oil, sambal oelek, coriander and lime juice in a small bowl.

When you’re ready to serve, pack the crab mixture into a ½ cup measure and unmould in the centre of two soup plates. Pour the chilled soup around the crab and serve.