Lots of people seem to have yet to fall in love with leeks. They’re so often relegated to that wingman status in the kitchen, turning up in mirepoix or “bulk out this soup”-position, but never really getting any action or appreciation themselves. If they are on occasion the star ingredient, it’s usually in that oft-repeated duo, Leek & Potato. They lack a certain pizazz, it seems. I think the issue is that people aren’t really sure what to do with them – they are the orphan alliums of the family! But just as onions will caramelize and sweeten when cooked over time, so too will leeks, albeit in a much softer and more mellow a manner. This makes them the perfect accompaniment to many dishes, especially anything involving chicken or pork.
Most braising recipes I’ve come across require at least two pans, one to cook the leeks in fat on the stovetop, then a second to finish them off in the oven. Who has time for that? Instead of cooking these on the stovetop first (usually in batches because, let’s face it, you can’t exactly fit many leeks in even a 12 inch pan), this recipe shows you how to make perfectly braised leeks all in one pan. This recipe isn’t super speedy, but it is simple and the rewards are worth taking up a little bit of oven-time; in fact, most of the cooking time is the kind where you don’t really have to actively do anything. So go ahead, make these as a side and you’ll see how the subtle and undersung leek is totally worth adding to a meal soon!
One other note – the easiest way I have found to wash leeks for dishes like these where you want longer strips instead of rings is to leave the root ends attached. Then cut them in half – right through the root – and rinse them under running water. This way you can separate out the first 2 – 3 layers of leek that usually have some grit and dirt under them without the whole leek disintegrating. Once they are clean and dry, you can remove the root end and slice as you wish.
- 3 tbl lard, bacon fat or fat of choice
- 6 leeks
- Salt to taste
- Zest and juice of ½ lemon
- ¼ cup vegetable or chicken broth
- Preheat oven to 400F. Add the fat to an ovenproof dish large enough to fit the leeks when cut in half. Put dish in the oven for a few minutes while you prep the leeks.
- Cut the tough green leaf ends from the leeks and discard (or save for stock). Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, leaving the root end intact.
- Rinse the leeks under running water, separating out the first few layers to wash out any trapped dirt or grit.
- Lay the washed leeks out on some paper towel and pat dry. Remove the root end and slice once again lengthwise so that the leeks are in quarters.
- Remove the baking dish from the oven and arrange the leeks, cut side down, in the butter or ghee. If it has browned a little, so much the better! Season with salt and pepper to taste, then return the dish and leeks to the oven for 15 - 20 minutes, until the bottoms begin to caramelize.
- Add chicken stock, cover and bake for 10 more minutes, or until tender.
- Squeeze the lemon juice over the top of the leeks while still in the baking dish, tossing them through the lemon & braising liquid. Sprinkle with lemon zest before serving & make sure to drizzle the braising liquid over the leeks, too!
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