Allium porrum, more commonly known as the leek, is a member of the garlic and onion family; a quintessential winter vegetable that has been grown in British soils since Ancient Egyptian times. Growing a variety of alliums such as Carlton (early) and Musselburgh (late) allows the season to be lengthened, however, British leeks are best enjoyed from November through to April. Leeks come in varying sizes with the smaller varieties tending to be a sweeter and more tender, whereas, larger ones are often stronger in flavour and more robust – these are best used in soups and stews.
Seasonal period: October to April
Flavour friends: Leeks are typically matched with potato and cheese it seems due to their fondness of creamy combinations, drawing on its balanced onion and cabbage flavours. Sage is great for enhancing is earthy tendencies as well as the decadent woodland flavours of truffle. Leek and pork however, always seems to be the winning combination.
Buying, storing and preparing: Avoid oversized, woody-looking leeks; rather choose one that have vivid green and white leaves. Wrap well, preferably in a brown paper bag to avoid them drying out and their odour permeating other foods – store in the fridge for around a week. Prepare by cutting half way down the dark green leaves as well as removing any that are blemished or wilting. Wash thoroughly to remove any grit or dirt before slicing longways into batons, or across the root into wide rings.
Cooking: The longer they are cooked the more tender and milder in flavour leeks become. Braise, steam, fry or roast depending on preference of texture and the strength of onion flavour wanting to be achieved. Braising will achieve a soft texture and far milder flavour, whereas steaming and frying tend to enhance the onion taste as well as a much firmer, crunchier texture.
Braised: 10- 15 minutes (sliced and cooked in stock). Steamed: 8 minutes (sliced), 15 minutes (whole). Fried: 5 – 8 minutes (sliced). Roasted: 30 minutes at 200C (sliced, oiled and seasoned).
Words by Helen Upshall