Leeks play dirty. I mean seriously dirty. Like their cousin the onion, leeks are made up of many, many flavorful layers and nestled between each one you’re likely to find, well, dirt. So learning how to clean leeks properly is just as important as knowing what to do with them once they’re clean.
But first things first, leeks are, as I hinted earlier, part of the onion family. They have the onion’s flavor, though not as sharp, and they get their good looks from the green onion or scallion. At first glance, leeks look like green onions on steroids as they’re much larger (and more flavorful ) than their tiny counterparts. Unlike the green onion, which except for the fuzzy root is completely edible, you’ll only want to eat the leek’s white and light green portion. Their crowning dark green leaves are too tough and woody to enjoy. My pet peeve about leeks—actually it’s my pet peeve about grocery stores—is that they typically sell leeks by the pound so you’re forced to pay for the weight of all the greenery that you’re not going to use, but I digress.
To make sure the dirt between the leek’s leaves doesn’t end up on your plate – that’ll be the mystery crunch in your dish – a simple rinse won’t do. If your recipe calls for your leeks in large pieces, cut away the root and the dark green leaves. Slice the white portion in half lengthwise and run the leaves under cold, running water, being careful to separate the layers with your fingers so the water can get to any trapped sand.
If your leeks are going to be sliced or chopped, go ahead and cut them while they’re still dirty. Fill a bowl with cold water and place your sliced/chopped leeks in the bowl. Use your hand to agitate the leeks in the water. Give them a good shake to help separate the dirt from the leek. Let them sit in the water for a couple of minutes then use a slotted spoon to remove the leeks from the water. All the dirt and soil should have settled at the bottom of your bowl and your leeks should be squeaky clean.
Once they’re out of the water, be sure to dry your leeks thoroughly so they don’t become soggy or lose their crispness.