Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Unlike onions and garlic, leeks don’t form useful storage bulbs, and are grown instead for their scallion-like mass of fresh leaves. (There’s one exception to this rule: the leek variety confusingly named “elephant garlic” because it produces a garlic-like bulb cluster that can reach 1 lb/450 gm.) Leeks are very tolerant of cold and in many regions can be harvested throughout the winter. They grow to a large size, and the prized white base portion of their leaves is often increased (to as much as 1 ft/3 m long and 3 in/7.5 cm thick) by hilling soil up around the growing plant to shield more of it from the sun. This practice also fills the spaces between leaves with grit, and necessitates careful washing. The inner leaves (and seldom-used roots) have the strongest flavor. The upper green portion of each leek leaf is edible, but tends to be tougher and to have a less oniony, more cabbage-like flavor than the lower white portion. It’s also rich in long-chain carbohydrates that give the cooked vegetable a slippery texture, will gel when chilled, and can lend body to soups and stews.