Monday, January 30, 2012

French Onion Soup

I'm making friends with the onion, and it's cousins...scallions, spring onions, shallots and garlic. Our relationship has been building slowly, and there are boundaries. This newfound respect is based on specific cooking methods. Roasting, carmelizing and grilling have won me over. Raw? Not happening. I just don't wear it well. Members of the amaryllidaceae family fight the mintiest of toothpastes and give me monster breath.

In childhood, I'd look on in awe as my sister ordered onion soup at the Brasserie in NYC, or when she'd chomp on fried onion rings. I'd think, "really?" when I'd watch her nod as our dad asked if she wanted raw onions on her hamburger. GAH!!  It took me a few decades, I've come around, but on my terms! Now, I love, love, love slow roasting garlic for mashed potatoes, or for spreading onto a baguette. Grilled red onions are sublime. I still pick raw scallions out of certain dishes...but I like to roast or grill their younger but bigger brother, the spring onion.

I bought a bag of 5 onions for 79 cents last week, just because that's a great price. I thought that I might try my hand at French Onion Soup. This past weekend, a friend and I zipped 2 1/2 hrs north to Chapel Hill, NC and among the shops was " A Southern Season" which boasts 60,000 sq feet of KITCHEN stuff. It was quite the store, but scary as it is to admit, I was not overwhelmed. I have most of what I need after years of collecting and from being the recipient of wonderful *things* from Williams-Sonoma and the gadget wall at kitchen supply stores. I walked the aisles and was able to say 'have that, have that, have that, don't need that..."   After 60,000 sq ft, my "haul" consisted of 2 tubes of garlic paste, and one tube of harissa. I saw the classic Apilco Lion's Head soup bowls, and held one up. They've got a nice weightiness to them, and the lions heads are worn like an old gargoyle. The bowl reminded me of a wintry dinner I had at Balthazar in NYC...French Onion Soup with a Croque Monsieur. YUM. Classic, all the way.

I don't have Apilco bowls...but my white ceramic two-handled soup bowls work just fine. After returning from Chapel Hill, I was inspired to make soup this Sunday afternoon. I had all the ingredients handy, except for Gruyere or Jarslberg cheese, and beef demi glace. I worked around that...

1 pound onions, peeled and sliced thinly
1 oz unsalted butter
1/4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/3 tsp Kosher salt
1 tbs flour
1 tbs sugar
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp sage ( I used a few small sage leaves from the garden)
1 whole bay leaf
1/3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp tabasco sauce
5 cups chicken stock (I use unsalted)
3 tbs beef demi glace (I used 'skillet bacon spread' instead!)
1/2 cup red wine
2 tbs brandy
Garnish: 1 slice toasted bread per bowl + shredded Jarlsberg or Gruyere cheese (I used Muenster)

Peel and slice onions. Heat butter and oil, and sautee onions in a large soup pot. Get some color on them, then add flour, salt and sugar..continue to sautee til carmelized. All the bitterness will be gone and the onions are completely sweet! Add seasonings and liquids. Simmer for 45 mins, with the lid of the pot the soup will reduce a bit. Adjust for flavor. I added a teensy bit more salt...but the "bacon spread" gives lots of good flavor and some body. Onions and bacon---oooo la la!  Fill a bowl with soup, place toasted bread on top, then sprinkle shredded or sliced cheese generously. Brown under the broiler. 

Thinly slice 1 lb of onions.


Cook low and slow to carmelize and get good color! When you deglaze the pot with the liquids...scrape up the brown's where the flavor lives!

I keep a six pack of these 187 ml bottles of red and white wine in the fridge. That's a little more than 3/4 cup per bottle...perfect for cooking! This recipe calls for 1/2 cup..leaving two sips for the cook ;-)

Need I say more? for info.

Simmer for 45 mins, to reduce the soup and develop the flavors.

Didn't have a baguette handy. I toasted a piece of Trader Joe's sprouted rye bread. Used a biscuit cutter to make it pretty.

I used Meunster's what was in the fridge.


Eat all the cheese from the sides of the bowl first...

See below. It was even better the next day, as the flavors developed overnight, and I had time to buy cheese! Top with shredded J-berg cheese and broil.

Life is good, Level and Plumb.

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