A few friends have told me that they’ve never used leeks in cooking before. I have a feeling it’s because leeks have a bad reputation. Not that they don’t taste good – cause they do – or, that they’re not easy to cook – cause they are. But it’s because these guys grow in the ground, and all sizes of grit and silt and dirt get inbetween the beautiful long leaves of leeks. If they are not cleaned properly, someone will invariably bite down on a piece of dirt, and that is just not a pleasant experience.
So I want to invite more cooks to not be scared of leeks, and help with one way to clean leeks that I’ve found foolproof.
Leeks, in the onion family, are usually sold in bunches of two or three, depending how big they are. They will be dirty – that’s guaranteed.
First, remove all rubber bands and ties that bind them. Then, with a sharp knife, remove the stem end, about one inch up from the roots; compost these.
Remove and compost a few outer leaves from each leek you’re cleaning. You will be able to tell that these leaves are thick and not tender – they are almost leather-like and weathered.
Slice each leek lengthwise. Then, slice the leeks crosswise, about 1/8″ thick. The thin slices will assure that the grit will be let loose. As you slide from the root end up, slicing away, it’s okay to toss out any outer leaves that still feel too tough to keep. In fact, many recipes only suggest using the white part of a leek, which is more tender than the green, but I like both. Just don’t keep any part of the green leaves that are thick and tough. I also don’t slice all the way to the end, but that’s your choice. I usually end up with a 50-50 mixture of white and green.
When you are done, place the slices in a very large bowl in your sink and fill the bowl to the brim with water. You will probably already notice that there is dirt on the bottom of the bowl, but this isn’t good enough. Trust me – there is more. For about a minute, jiggle the leek slices within the water, until you’re pretty sure they’re clean. Then, remove the slices to dry on a clean dish towel. If you need to use the leeks quickly, cover them with another towel to dry them. You’re probably going to be sauteing them, so you don’t want any water left on them to saute effectively.
And that is how you clean leeks.
If you want to use a long half of leek – say, as for a Leeks Vinaigrette recipe – you can hold each half of the trimmed-up leek under the water and gently pull the leaves apart, making sure to keep the leek half intact for the presentation. That will work as well, but take your time. Biting on sand is not fun.
Leeks are fantastic sauteed in soups and stews, roasted along with broccoli, in a quiche or savory tart, or on their own, as in leeks with a vinaigrette. They have a mild onion-y flavor, so it’s good to mix them with a regular onion in cooking. Try them!