Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Recipe: French Onion Soup

I have a new soup pot. Isn't it beautiful? And what better way to break it in with a recipe from the late great Julia Child.

I'd never made onion soup before, and was amazed by how simple a recipe it is. It's caramelized onions in beef stock. That's it. The hardest thing about it is slicing up the onions. It does require some time stirring the pot while the onions cook down, but get a good book and the time will fly by. I listened to Imperium by Robert Harris, while caramelizing my onions. A novel about Republican Rome that proves that politics has always been a dirty game, controlled by money, vested interests, spin and swayed by people who are total boors, but mysteriously popular with the public. (Sound familiar?)

All of the ingredients
It is traditional to gratinée French onion soup (meaning bake a crust of cheese over the bowl) but personally, I find it:
  • over the top when eating alone
  • messy, and
  • a waste of cheese, since you always lose some to the oven and bowl
Instead, I did Gruyere croutons, which is simply toasted bread with Gruyere baked onto it. The advantage to this is you can make a bunch of these little toasts ahead of time, store them in the refrigerator, and heat them up (with the soup) when you feel like eating.

One thing I noticed, is that onions are amazingly sweet when cooked down. I actually dug the bag out of the trash to make sure I hadn't used sweet onions by mistake. (I hadn't.) Julia only has you put in 1/2 tsp of salt, but you may want to increase that. It depends on how salty your stock is.

French Onion Soup
(from Julia Child's The Way to Cook)

Note: The house will smell like onions for two days afterwards; not necessarily a bad thing, but if you are going to have company, maybe wait until they're gone.

3 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
8 cups thinly sliced onions (roughly 2-1/2 to 3 lbs)
1/2 teaspoon each salt and sugar (sugar helps the onions brown)
2 Tablespoons flour
2-1/2 quarts beef stock (2 cups of which should be hot)
4-5 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1 cup dry white French vermouth (I used a dry white wine)

Set your pot over moderate heat with the butter and oil, and when the butter had melted add in the onions.  Cover the  pan and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Blend in salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, approximately 25-30 minutes.

Sprinkle in flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for a moment. Whisk in 2 cups of hot stock. When well blended, bring to a simmer, add the rest of the stock, brandy (if using) and vermouth. Cover loosely and let simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Add a little water if it reduces too much.


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