~ Totally Undeserving of the James Beard Award

~ Completely Undeserving of the James Beard Award ~

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

For the Heart, the Soul, the Mind…I give you: French Onion Soup

As a kid growing up, the thought of eating a soup made from onions was disgusting…who in the world would eat onion soup?  Well, like a lot of things, we grew to try and appreciate new things (although I have yet to eat a raw oyster). As I started to get into cooking more and more I saw recipes, pictures and videos of French onion soup in a little crock...steaming, cheese bubbling on a large crouton. And I thought, that looks too good for it not to BE good, am I missing out on something?

It’s a rather simple recipe and procedure…it just takes a while. But when it’s about 3:00 on a Sunday afternoon, it’s getting colder out now...the leaves have turned their musty smell of gold-yellow-orange-brown, the lawn has (hopefully) been mowed for the last time this summer, your favorite grey sweater you packed away over the summer is found and pulled out for another season of warmth…you have some quiet jazz on…someone is plinking on the piano, the dog snores in the den and the news of a loved one you haven’t seen a long while will be home for dinner…makes it a perfect time for homemade French onion soup.

It all starts with, well…onions.  The recipe I use calls for four onions and when you slice them up, you think…no way, that is a mountain of onions.  And you know what? You’re right…it is, but you need them all. Just cut them all up and don’t look back.   Now as a side note to continue my previous post, I sliced all four onions up with a freshly sharpened knife…and…not…one…tear. Oh I definitely smelled them but my ducts were dry.

 But let me pause if I may and show you the proper way to dice an onion.  This is not what I used for the soup as I wanted half-round slices.   First cut the...wait, first sharpen your knife, second cut the onion in half from the root to the stem and slice off the stem end and leave the root alone. You will have this:

Next, lay the cut side flat on your cutting surface and slice from the previously cut-off stem end to the root end horizontally. NOTE! If you want say a 1/2 inch dice...slice 1/2 inch up from the table, if you want larger dice or smaller, adjust where you cut accordingly. BUT!...do not slice all the way through, stop and and leave about an inch from the end. Then, slice again 1/2 inch up from your previous cut and so on until you have no more onion to cut in that direction.

Like this ( the knife shows where I stopped the cuts):

Next, slice the other direction, from the old stem end towards the root end...again a 1/2 inch apart...and again, stopping about an inch away from the end. By stopping in both directions you keep the whole onion intact.

Then simply slice in the third direction, down keeping with your 1/2 inch spacing...and what do you know...you just diced up an onion quick, efficiently...and with even size pieces. 

So back to the soup...put two tableblobs of butter in a large pot, the heavier the better as it will maintain the heat and add your Mt Everest of onions. I always use a sweet variety such as Walla Walla to aid in the caramelization process. Add garlic, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper and cook…and cook……and cook………and cook. Turning and cooking, cooking and turning until they turn a nice...well, carmel color. Watch them to ensure they don't burn.

Next up, pour in a cup of red wine. Never use a wine you wouldn't drink. Simmer this until all of the wine has evaporated and the onions are basically dry...like...



Make an attempt to locate and discard the bay leaves and thyme. You will probably only find the bay leaves and thyme branches. Dust the onions with flour and cook a few minutes to cook out the raw flour taste.  Don't burn the flour.

 Add beef broth, simmer for 10 minutes or more and adjust the flavor (check if you need to add salt or pepper, you probably do). When you are ready to eat, start your boiler, place oven safe small bowls on a sheet pan, ladle in your soup, float a large pre-made crouton from a baguette and top that with slices of gruyere cheese. Place it under your boiler to melt the cheese all gooey. I served this with a French Dip sandwich.

Oh, so good. A perfect comfort food...made for crisp fall afternoons, your grey sweater, the quiet jazz, turning leaves and a homecoming of a loved one.

Makes 4-6 servings.

1/2 C unsalted butter
4 onions
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
salt & pepper
1 C red wine
3 tbl flour (heaping)
2 qt beef broth
baguette, sliced
1/2 lb gruyere cheese

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