All my culinary school textbooks defined mirepoix as equal parts leeks, onions, carrots and celery. These ingredients were the building blocks for most French cooking, including soups, stocks and sauces.The instructors warned us that many commercial kitchens don’t use leeks anymore, so we should get used to using two parts onions as a substitute. It was true: in my entire professional chef career, I rarely used leeks unless they were specifically featured in a dish. After all, you can’t make something called potato and leek soup without them!
Even though they’re not commonly used, it’s definitely worth learning how to cook leeks. They’re sweeter the other members of the allium family, with a mild, almost garlic-like flavor that lacks the sharp bite (and eye-watering aroma) associated with onions. They also hold their texture well, creating a soft-yet-firm eating experience when cooked properly.
How to Prepare Leeks
First thing’s first: what part of the leek can you eat? The edible portion is the white and light-green part around the base of the leek. As soon as the leaves turn dark green, they become tough and fibrous. Remove the tops and toss them in the freezer; they will be a great addition to your stockpot the next time you make broth.
Next, unlike other types of onions, you really need to clean leeks before cooking them. They grow in sandy ground, and that grit loves to wedge in between all the layers. The easiest way to clean them starts with removing the stem end and slicing the leek in half lengthwise to expose all the layers inside. Place the leek under cold, running water, shuffling the layers to give the water access to any dirt that may be clinging to the interior. Then, slice or dice the leek according to your recipe. Get our complete how-to guide here.
How to Cook Leeks
This is my number one, absolute favorite way to prepare leeks. Like caramelized onions, they literally melt in your mouth as you eat them, but they take significantly less time to create. They taste fantastic as a steak topper, on pizzas instead of onions or folded into mashed potatoes. If you have any leftovers, add them to egg dishes, toss a handful into mac and cheese or use them as an ingredient in power bowls.
- Slice your cleaned leeks into 1/4-inch half moons and pat them dry with a paper towel.
- In a medium saucepan, add a few tablespoons of unsalted butter and melt it over medium-low heat.
- Add the sliced leeks and a pinch of salt before covering the pan. Let the leeks cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until they’re soft and wilted, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. If the leeks look dry and sticky when you stir them, add a splash of olive oil.
Test Kitchen Tip: Butter adds a ton of flavor to leeks, but you can make this dish vegan by using olive oil instead.
Add a little texture to your leeks by pan frying them! You don’t even need any flour or coating; the leeks will crisp up on their own. These leeks taste good on just about everything, but we particularly like them on top of a piece of oven-roasted salmon or as a garnish for soups or salads.
- Cut a cleaned leek into julienned, match-stick pieces. The easiest way is to half the leek width-wise (creating two, 2-inch sections). Then, make it easier to lay the layers flat by cutting each section in half lengthwise. Then, proceed with cutting your matchstick pieces.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat an inch of canola oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, carefully add the leeks and fry for 3 to 5 minutes, until they’re crispy and golden brown.
- Remove the leeks to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt.
Most leek cooking methods soften the leeks, but we want to celebrate the fresh, crunchy flavor of these alliums! You can use pickled leeks on anything that calls for pickled onions. They add texture and a bright acidity to things like chicken salad, avocado toast or meatloaf!
- 2 leeks, cleaned and trimmed
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
- Juice of one lemon
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Pickling spices of your choosing
- Slice your cleaned leeks into 1/4-inch half moons and place them in a clean pickling jar.
- In a small pot, combine the remaining ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Pour the liquid over the leeks and tightly seal the jar. Refrigerate for an hour before enjoying, or save them for a later date! They’re good for about a month in the refrigerator.
If you’re not sold yet, learn to love leeks with these 28 fantastic recipes.