Saturday, April 21, 2012

French Onion Soup

This past winter I got into soups in a big way. They're a great way to get more veggies into your diet, they make a great meal, and they freeze and reheat well. Since your consuming a good deal of water with the broth, you consume a lot less calories per volume than lots of other meals. This French onion recipe adapted from Julia Child is one of my favorites. It requires just a few ingredients, but it would impress the hell out of dinner guests and you can make it ahead of time too. It's got a deep rich onion and beef flavor and it's awesome with crusty bread broiled with cheese. This recipe takes a good chunk of time though, so I usually double the batch and freeze half for later.
Making good French onion soup requires full on caramelization of the onions. Basically you want to cook the onions first by letting them sit, covered at a low temperature, then you turn up the heat to start breaking down the sugars in the onions resulting in the brown goodness you see above. If you were to just fire up high heat straight off you'd get semi-raw onions with burnt edges. With proper caramelization you also don't need to add any food coloring. The soup will have the rich brown color from the onions and broth alone. It's crazy how much water cooks out of onions too. If you decide to do a double batch, use at least a 6 or 8 quart stockpot.
The enrichments are optional. I didn't use cognac simply because the only cognac I had was Grand Marnier! And I didn't add the grated raw onion because frankly slicing onions is bad enough, grating them just seems like punishment to my eyes. I did add Worcestershire though and I like the extra layer of flavor it adds.

French Onion Soup
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking via Smitten Kitchen
Serves 6
Cooking Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (1 hour, 15 minutes active)

Ingredients

For the Soup:

1 3/4 lbs onions (794 grams), thinly sliced (This is another place where a mandoline slicer is handy.)
3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (24 grams) flour
2 quarts (8 cups or 1.9 liters) beef stock or broth
1/2 cup (118 ml) dry white wine or dry white vermouth
black pepper, to taste

Optional Enrichments:

1 teaspoon or to taste, Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons (45 ml) cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon grated raw onion

For Serving:

slices of bread, toasted until hard, for serving (Baguette or French is traditional, but I really like sourdough too!)
Parmesan or swiss, for serving

Directions

1. Melt the butter and oil together in a large pot. Turn the heat to medium-low. Add the onions, stir to coat them, cover the pot, and let them sit for 15 minutes.

2. Uncover, turn the heat to medium, add the sugar and salt. Stir onions frequently for 30 to 40 minutes or until completely caramelized. 

3. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook for about 3 minutes.

4. Add the wine and stir. Add the broth a little at a time, stirring in between.

5. Add pepper and adjust salt if necessary. Err on the side of less salt since the cheese on top will add extra salt.

6. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.

7. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, cognac, and raw onion, if using.

8. To serve preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Divide the soup among six bowls. Top with toasted bread, mound some cheese on top, and bake on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes. Deb over at Smitten Kitchen recommends a generous 1/4 cup of cheese per bowl if you like it gooey with cheese. I used less for the calorie savings. Finish under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the cheese a little.

If you're bowls aren't oven safe, you can use untoasted bread, sprinkle with cheese, and broil on a cookie sheet until bubbly, then transfer to the bowls. (This method is what's pictured above.)

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