October garden survivors: Leeks meet Allan Benton’s Bacon

Potato & Leek Soup
October 30, 2012
Brattleboro, Vermont

With a stand of leeks in our little organic garden patch out back, my wife Barb and I decided that we should make some Potato & Leek soup for a combination Hallowe’en potluck/Celtic music class gathering she was cooking up.

The soup essentially includes the two star ingredients, potatoes and leeks, a little bacon, and some stock, salt and pepper to taste. Simple.

But, for the leeks: only the white and very palest of the pale green parts are favored, and there’s a lot more leek above those highly prized bits that seemed like it was destined to go directly to the compost pile.

My Scottish nature bridled at that.

Augmenting the Stock

So, to augment the chicken stock I was going to use, I washed and cut the best of the leek greens into a pot and diced up a diced carrot, a couple ribs of celery, adding a bay leaf and some garlic. I sweat these for a few minutes in a little olive oil, then deglazed the pan with a little dry Vermouth and added the stock.

A guy could skip this step, but it only takes a few minutes to set up and makes a huge difference in the finished soup.

Simmer below a boil, at least until the carrots and celery are tender, longer if you get a head start.

The Bacon

It is here that the vegetarians squirm and omnivores begin to drool: Bacon.

Even ordinary bacon is a powerful flavor enhancer. But, not by chance, I had some of Allan Benton’s Hickory Smoked Country Bacon on hand.

Allan Benton’s small smokehouse in Madisonville TN, his slow cure, and personal care have catapulted his bacon and dry-cured country hams into the culinary stratosphere.

Benton’s cured pork products have become the darlings of the current generation of fine chefs from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. His country ham has been compared to Prosciutto and Serrano ham from Europe, products he didn’t know about until his hams caught on.

“What I’m doing, any hillbilly can do in their backyard,” Benton says. “It just takes a tiny bit of knowledge, a little bit of salt and sugar – and a lot of time.”

You can – and I recommend you do – purchase four, roughly one pound packages of this bacon for $24 plush S/H at http://bentonscountryhams2.com/hickorysmokedcountrybacon-2.aspx. (According to their website, the wait time can be as long as three weeks, but my order arrived more quickly.)


I used roughly a quarter pound of bacon, nearly four pounds of potatoes, six leeks from the garden (of varying diameters), two cups of amended chicken stock and a splash of milk, though I would have preferred cream.

Cutting and Building the Soup

With the warm stock ready on the back of the stove (stock vegetables softened and strained out), I cut the bacon into a 1/4” dice, the potatoes into a similar dice (if one added carrots, they would be diced similarly: I did not), the whites of the leeks were halved lengthwise and then cut into 1/2” pieces. And we’re ready to go.

Render the bacon over low heat until it’s released most of its fat, but not gotten crispy.

Add chopped leeks, stir for a minute or two to warm.

Add diced potatoes. Add some salt and fresh ground pepper.

Stir and turn the mixture over as it warms through and begins to soften.

Adding the Stock

Add the warmed stock 1/2 c. at a time, like you were making risotto, stirring it in and allowing it to warm through before adding more.

Once all the stock is added, turn the heat to the lowest setting and let it cook until the potatoes are softened.

At that point, you may add milk or cream, but do not boil the soup after adding dairy.

Correcting the Seasonings

As the soup simmers, you can check the salt and pepper balance. Additional seasonings might include a little thyme, another bay leaf, a dash of cayenne or other chile pepper.

You will find that the smokiness of Allan Benton’s bacon carries this dish far above any other Potato Leek Soup you’ve ever had. This is why Benton’s products are so prized. A small amount of Benton’s hickory cured bacon provides more flavor than a large amount of the bland supermarket bacon we were raised on (and loved).

My eyes (well, nose and tastebuds) have been opened.

And I still have three pounds of Benton’s bacon in the freezer and a quarter pound defrosted in the fridge.

This is how rural, poor people get to feel rich. It has ever been thus.


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