In the allium family, leeks are the tallest and offer the sweet taste of onion but with an earthier, grassy herbal character, and we love them! This first Braised Leeks with Bacon and Thyme recipe hailing from Molly Stevens “All About Braising” cookbook braises the leeks slowly in chicken broth until they collapse into blessed tenderness.
As Molly describes, braising reveals all of their goodness and brings out a complexity of flavor that would be lost by boiling or steaming. They are infinitely versatile and made a perfect accompaniment to our roasted chicken dinner. Serve them hot, warm, at room temperature or even a little chilled. They’ll keep for several days in the refrigerator.
Option number two is a vegetarian dish from Milk Street. Braised Leeks with Balsamic Glaze are meltingly tender. They are poached in olive oil and water then drizzled with a tangy-sweet balsamic glaze. The vegetable retains its mild spring onion flavor with none of the raw allium pungency—a wonderful example of letting the natural flavor of an ingredient shine through!
Leeks are at their best in the fall and winter. Shop for leeks that feel solid at the base, not at all squishy. The green top portion should be dark, not dried out. Inspect the white portion to see that it’s smooth and bright, not split or slimy. Late-season leeks may have developed solid woody cores, an indication it is way past their prime, and shouldn’t be purchased.
Braised Leeks with Bacon and Thyme
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
- 1 tsp. butter
- 4 to 5 lbs. medium to large leeks
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut lengthwise in half
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme (do not substitute dried)
- 1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 1/2 lemon
- Place the bacon in a medium skillet, set over medium heat, and fry, stirring often with a slotted spoon, until mostly crisp but with some softness remaining, 8-10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain, and set the skillet aside.
- Preheat the over to 325°F. Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. (We didn’t have as many leeks so we used a 9×9 square dish.)
- With a large knife trim off the root end of each leek, but leave the base intact. Get rid of the heaviest green part and any tough white parts. Cut off the tops at the point where the green turns from pale and smooth to dark and leathery.
- Cut the leeks lengthwise in half, without cutting completely through the root end, Wash the leeks thoroughly, holding them upside down under cold running water and flaring the layers to let the water run through to remove all the sand.
- Shake off the excess water and place them in one layer in the prepared baking dish. Tuck the garlic halves in the dish and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Sprinkle on the thyme.
- Pour off as much fat from the reserved bacon skillet, without discarding the bacon drippings. Place over high heat, add the stock, and bring to a boil to deglaze the pan, scraping with a wooden spoon. Pour the hot stock over the leeks.
- Cover the dish tightly with foil and place on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Braise for 30 minutes.
- Turn the leeks over with tongs, and continue braising uncovered until the leeks are fork tender, another 15-25 minutes. Scatter the reserved bacon over the leeks and continue braising for an additional 15 minutes, or until the leeks are soft enough to be easily pierced with the tip of a knife.
- With tongs and a slotted spoon, transfer the leeks and bacon to a platter, and cover with foil to keep warm. Pour any remaining juices, along with those from the platter, into a skillet and reduce down to 1/4 cup. Add a generous squeeze of lemon, taste for salt and pepper, and simply pour over the leeks. Serve warm or room temperature.
Braised Leeks with Balsamic Glaze
You want to make sure not to stir the leeks too vigorously or too often when browning them. Stir gently just once or twice, without flipping them, so they color evenly. And once the water goes into the pan and the cover goes on, it’s best to simply shake the skillet, not stir its contents, so the leeks hold together.
These leeks just melted in the mouth! We omitted the sliced almonds for this meal; and next time we would cut the glaze in half. Although it was very good, we didn’t even use all of it and it was still a lot.
Braised Leeks with Basamic Glaze
- 1 lb. leeks, white and light green parts only, outer layers removed
- 2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. salted butter, cut into 2 pieces
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 6 thyme sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. honey
- 3 Tbsp. sliced almonds, toasted (optional)
- Cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Fill a large bowl with water, submerge the leek halves and swish them around to remove the grit between the layers. Pour off the water and repeat until the leeks are clean, then pat dry. Cut the leeks on the diagonal into 2-inch sections, keeping the layers intact as much as possible.
- In a 12-inch skillet, combine the oil, butter and leeks, adding them to the pan cut side down. Set the pan over medium-high and cook, gently stirring only once or twice so the layers do not separate, until the leeks are lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes.
- Add ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper, then slowly add ⅔ cup water. Add the thyme sprigs, cover and reduce to medium-low. Cook, occasionally shaking the skillet, until a knife inserted into the leeks meets no resistance and most of the water has evaporated, about 20 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the leeks to a platter, leaving the oil in the skillet. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs. Add the vinegar and honey to the pan, then cook over medium, stirring often, until the mixture is syrupy, 2 to 4 minutes.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper, then pour over the leeks. Sprinkle with the chopped thyme and the almonds, if using.