Tuesday, December 8, 2009

French Onion Soup From Scratch

Yeah, you know that thing. That thing called Murphy's Law? Yep, its alive and well in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Working on a deadline last night, one which required electricity to power the internet and the printer, I thought it odd that two rooms out of eight in our house suddenly didn't have electricity. Was it faulty wiring (which is never a good thing)? A tripped fuse? A sign of some kind?

I continued on with my evening, not in the least bothered by the idea that the girls' room was pitch dark. I mean, what could be more fun than putting on your PJs and reading a book by flashlight! Hours of fun, let me tell you.

I freaked out only when I realized that not only the modem for the internet was on that power line and the printer I needed, but our entire house heating system!! And because everyone needs a good freak out once in a while, I did a bit of stomping about and a bit of loud sighing (aka, yelling). And then decided to cook.

In honor of having to stick around the house all morning while the "masters" take four hours to figure out they cannot fix the problem, I've decided to make a classic french onion soup. The kind that takes a while because you have to slow cook the onions until they are gorgeously browned and amazingly sweet. The kind that I'm normally not in the house long enough at any given time to make.

So, in the end, the weird electricity outtage's sign was to make French Onion Soup from scratch. And it's so good. I am eating my bowl right now as I type.

Start with about 3 lbs of onions.

Peel, chop in half and make thin half moons. I had about six cups.

Put some salt in a heavy-bottomed skillet and heat it quite high. You can put a few tablespoons of butter or olive oil as well, but I opted for the lower fat method. When we get to the cheese part, you'll see why.

And cook the onions, adding a bit of water to prevent scorching, for about an hour until you are left with left than two cups of beautifully browned onions. I actually think I could have gone a bit longer on the browning, but like you, I had things to do!

You want the bottom of your pan to have a layer of very brown bits of onion. So make sure you don't add too much water. If you do, you'll prevent this from happening. It's a fine balance between burnt to a crisp and nicely caramelized. You don't want your onions tasting bitter.

Now onto the good stuff. Dig out your twenty year bottle of brandy. This is from Armenia. It's good. And good for you. And good for deglazing above-mentioned pan.

Go ahead and pour about 1/3 of a cup into the pan.

And stir and stir with a wooden spoon scraping all those wonderful browned bits up. Cook this down until the brandy is well-reduced and syrupy.

Add your caramelized onions back to the pan and get yourself about six cups of broth. Because I had it, I used some imported canned beef stock. Actually, I used two cans of this plus two cups of chicken stock from bouillon.

Since my pot of thyme never really took off this year, I couldn't add a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Instead, I wrapped some dried thyme and parsley in a small piece of cheese cloth and floated that in the middle along with two bay leaves. Both needed to be picked out before serving and tossed in the compost bin.

While the soup sits for another 30 minutes or so on low, grab a french baguette, or in my case, part of something that sort of looks like a baguette.

Cut it into little rounds and place on a cookie sheet.

And toast at 350 degrees for about 10 - 15 minutes. Mine were a hair beyond and just missed being tossed in the compost bin, too. Saved, just in the nick of time!

Fill an oven-proof bowl or ramekin with the naked soup.

Toss a few toasted baguette slices on top. In my case, my tiny bowl nicely held three slices. But remember that they'll soak up the soup and puff up when you bake them again. Top them a big handful of coarsely grated cheese. I used asiago. But emmenthal or swiss would work perfectly.

Now pop this into the already hot oven on a cookie sheet for a few minutes -- just enough time to melt the cheese. Then turn on the broiler and brown the melted layer of cheese until golden.

Notice how much the toasts expanded?

Grab yourself a spoon and dig in. Perfect on a cold winter day. Without half your lights and cold radiators.


Anonymous said...

This looks amazing! This will be my first try at this wonderfully delicious soup, and look forward to your recipe. Would you ever advise using a strong cheese such as bleu or Gorgonzola?

eniko76 said...

My sons and I just made this, minus the brandy. It turned out great. Thanks! :o)