Leeks, a member of the onion/garlic family, are a delicious addition to most meals and a common base flavor in stocks. Leeks are grown and used primarily for their creamy tender white base, which is produced by piling soil up around the base of the leeks as they are growing. This method of piling soil prevents the sun from adequately shining on the base of the leek, leaving a longer more supple white base. Due to the constant piling of dirt, leeks are often filled with sand and dirt between their many onion layers. Their numerous tightly stacked layers can be intimidating to clean, but it really couldn't be easier.
There are two primary methods for cleaning leeks. The method you choose will depend entirely on how you will be using the leeks in your cooking. I will cover a cleaning method for chopped, diced, or sliced leeks first and then cover a washing method for whole leeks.
Step 1: Remove the Root
If you are planning on using your leeks as chopped, diced or sliced, cut off 1/4" (0.625 cm) from the base of your leek. This should not only remove your roots but also the root end.
If you are planning on using your leeks as whole leeks, you'll want to cut less than 1/4" of the base off of your leek. You'll want to keep as much of the connective base layers as possible to keep your leek whole. You do still want to remove the rough root base.
Step 2: Remove the Dark Green
This dark green portion of the leek is often removed as it is generally more fibrous, tougher, and takes longer to cook till it is soft and tender. You can save it and use it to create and flavor stocks and soups. I usually like to save them by placing them in a plastic ziplock or tupperware and freezing them until I'm ready to use them.
Step 3: Cleaning Leeks to Be Chopped
- Cut your leek in half lengthwise.
- Slice your leek crosswise to your desired width. This will allow all of the leek layers to separate and release the dirt and sand.
- Place your sliced leeks into a bowl.
- Fill your bowl of leeks with cold water.
- Using your hands, swirl your leek slices around in the water. Break up any layers that are stubbornly sticking together. Continue to wash your leeks in this manner until you feel the dirt and sand have been dislodged from your leeks. The sand and dirt should sink to the bottom of the bowl and the leeks will continue to float at the top.
- Using a slotted spoon transfer your leeks from your water bath to a colander. Allow your leeks to dry. You do NOT want to pour your leek water bath into the colander since the dirt you have dislodged will come with the leeks.
Step 4: Cleaning Whole Leeks
- Peel off the outermost layers of your leek.
- Insert the tip of your knife an inch away from the root end of your leek. Slice your leek in half lengthwise by moving the tip of your knife to the end of the dark green section. By leaving once inch of white stalk intact, you'll guarantee that your leek will stay whole while simultaneously allowing access into the many layers of your leek.
- Fan your leek with your fingers so that multiple layers are exposed.
- Rinse under cold water with the dark green end of your leek pointing down. This will allow for the dirt and sand to fall out of the leek. Continue to fan and manipulate the layers of the leek with your fingers as you rinse it under the cold water.
- Allow to dry.