10 January 2013
When I took the time to thoroughly caramelize the onions for a special version of my Vegetable Beef Soup last week, I got to craving classic French onion soup. Ever since my mother and I watched Julia Child make it on television when I was a child, I've intended to make it. Every time I have it in a French restaurant, I've intended to make it. For some reason, I never have. But, at last, today was the day!
Naturally, I started with Julia's version in Mastering the Art of French Cooking - Volume One. And, just as naturally, I couldn't help making a few additions and subtractions as well as streamlining the directions. There's nothing difficult about it. It just takes a little patience and some good broth or stock. If you don't want to take at least 45 minutes to properly caramelize the onions, don't make this soup. If you don't want to make homemade beef stock or buy some really good stock or broth, don't make this soup.
I used Pacific Natural Foods organic beef broth, a superb product I always have in the pantry, and it was wonderful! Good, flavorful, not-too-salty broth or stock is key to this soup. And there are plenty of recipes out there shortcutting the cooking of the onions. Don't you believe them!
If your eyes are as sensitive to onions as mine, you need to get these fabulous onion goggles -- they have changed my life! And they're kind of cute, too. Unfortunately, no one was around to take a picture of me modeling them!
We have many weeks of Soup Weather ahead - tell me about your favorite soups.
French Onion Soup - Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
(Makes 7 cups / 6 servings)
1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 quart very good beef broth or stock
1 quart water
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons brandy, optional
6 rounds of hard-toasted French bread
1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese
6 tablespoons shredded Parmesan
1 In heavy-bottomed large pot (a 4-quart is fine, but I used my Le Creuset 5.5-Quart French Oven), cook the onions in butter and oil over low heat, covered, for 15 minutes. No need to watch them, just set the timer and walk away.
2 Stir in the salt and sugar (helps with browning). Cook, uncovered, over moderate heat (onions should be sizzling), stirring frequently,* for about 35 to 45 minutes, or until onions are well caramelized, evenly golden brown.
* Who even knows what "stirring frequently" means? I've never seen a definitive answer to that question, so I'm going to say it means every 2 or 3 minutes (though maybe every minute toward the end).
3 During the last 15 minutes of cooking the onions, bring the stock and water to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan.
4 Sprinkle flour over the caramelized onions. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the sherry, and cook for 1 minute.
5 Off heat, stir (gradually at first) the boiling liquid into the onions. Stir in the thyme, marjoram and black pepper (and the brandy, if you're using it). Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning (at this point, I added another 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper). May be made ahead to this point, cooled and then refrigerated until ready to use. While soup is simmering, cut slices of French bread to fit your broiler-proof* soup bowls and toast them on a baking sheet in the oven until they are hard as well as toasted.
6 About 10 minutes before serving, preheat broiler. Bring the soup to a boil, then ladle into broiler-proof soup bowls. Place toast rounds on top, and spread cheeses over each. Place on a large, foil-lined baking sheet and put under the broiler for about 2 minutes to melt cheese and brown the tops.
*If your bowls are not broiler-proof, after oven-toasting the bread just top the toasts on the baking sheet with cheese and pop them under the broiler until cheese is bubbling and browning, then float them on the bowls of soup.
Note: If you're a Julia Child fan, you might enjoy reading my Vegetable Quiche post about one of my conversations with her.