Thursday, December 30, 2010
French onion soup – a perfect dish to serve after a night out on the town
French onion soup is a perfect dish to serve after a night on the town. In fact, it gained its popularity in Paris as the “middle of the night restorative” during the days of Les Halles, Paris’ former wholesale food market. In the old days revelers and nighthawks would come to the market at Les Halles for a bowl of soup at dawn after the clubs closed.
According to Dorie Greenspan in her wildly popular new cookbook Around My French Table, the secret to making a great onion soup is patience. To quote Dorie, “cook the onions until they are almost the color of mahogany and everything after that will be perfect.” She goes on to say, “the onions can take up to an hour or more to brown and don’t be tempted to speed things up, because if you burn the onions, your soup will have a bitter taste.” She also advises that if you want your soup to live up to the French standards of Les Halles, you must serve it brûlante, or burning hot.
Speaking of onions, I don’t salt them while they are browning because salt inhibits their ability to brown. Most onion soups call for thinly slicing the onions, but we’ve found that if you chop them, the soup is easier to eat and the onions don’t slide off of your spoon, which Meakin jokingly refers to as a "leaky lip." To make the topping, if your broiler isn’t strong or you don’t have a kitchen torch to melt the cheese, you can make cheese toast in a separate step as I’ve done here.
French onion soup, minus the bread and cheese of course, can be made in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator, making it perfect for a late night meal when you’ve been out on the town. Add a tossed green salad and you’re all set.
French Onion Soup
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Foods of the World – Paris - with advice from Dorie Greenspan
2 ½ pounds yellow onions, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2 cups red wine
8 cups low-sodium beef stock
1 dried bay leaf
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
6 thick slices of a French baguette
3 cups hand grated Gruyere cheese
In a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, adding the sugar, until the onions are meltingly soft, golden and lightly caramelized, about 45 minutes to an hour, taking care not to let the onions burn. Add the chopped fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper and cook a minute or two more. It is important not to salt the onions until they have browned. If you salt the onions beforehand, they won’t brown as well.
Add the wine, raise the heat to high, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, 8 – 10 minutes. Add the stock and bay leaf reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the soup simmer, uncovered, until it is dark and fully flavored, about 45 minutes. If the liquid is evaporating too quickly or the soup taste too strong, add a little water, then cover and let it continue to cook.
Just before serving, remove the bay leaf and discard. Add the cognac or brandy and let the soup sit for a few minutes. In the meantime, toast the bread on both sides, either in a toaster oven or in a preheated 400 degree F oven, then add the shredded gruyere cheese on top of one slice, return to the toaster or oven until the cheese has melted. Serve the soup burning hot. Makes about 4 servings.