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Friday, December 10, 2010

If It's Friday It Must Be Soup Dec 10/10 French Onion Soup

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I have to be honest. I really, really wanted to make sopa de lima today. Jen, from Piccante Dolce, was kind enough to bring me along with her this week to a dinner put on by the Mexican Tourism Board at Frida, a fabulous Mexican restaurant in Toronto. UNESCO has recognized Mexican cuisine's cultural heritage and added it to the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. How cool is that? We got to dine on multiple courses, all representing different UNESCO recognized sites throughout Mexico. It was a very special experience for me because Mexico is a country of my heart - sorry, I know that sounds incredibly cheesy, but it's true. I have travelled quite a bit there over the last 20 years or so and have an incredible affinity for it's culture and it's food.
I am going to wait for Jen to write about it and then I will link you to her post and I will chime in with my thoughts at that time. 

Okay, back to soup. Shack loves French Onion Soup and I am kind of enjoying my run of good luck making new things (new for me anyway) that he has been loving so I am going to push the sopa de lima back a bit and continue on with my winning streak. I did a ton of reading and found a million recipes but I chose to follow this recipe from Cook's Illustrated. Instead of just caramelizing the onions in a skillet on the stovetop for 45 minutes, this method required almost 3 hrs of time but the first 2 3/4 hrs they were left, pretty much unattended, in the oven. So, longer time commitment but less work sounded reasonable to me since I was planning to spend the day at home anyway, catching up on Dexter, I mean HOUSEWORK.   Instead, after the first hour in the 400F oven a friend called and asked me to go see a movie with her, so I turned the oven down to 225F and left the onions in there for another 3 hrs. When I came home, I half expected to open the oven to find a little lump of coal under the loosely tented foil but instead, I found silky, melty caramelized onions!!
Since I don't have a LeCreuset enamelled cast iron dutch oven, I did the onions in my super, duper heavy cast iron skillet and after the final de glazing with sherry, I put it in a soup pot and carried on from there and it worked out beautifully.


After that, I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter and we both really liked the soup. I forgot to add some parmesan to the cheese and Shack said his only change would be to add that - he thinks the parmesan will add a bit of needed saltiness as well. I think it really is a great recipe and did not require any tweaking apart from the addition of freshly grated parmesan to the cheesy crust. Doing the onions for hours in the oven really is a time commitment but in the end, a zillion times easier than doing them stovetop and the flavour is so much richer and deeper this way. My aunt told me that she has also done them in her slow cooker for a few hours and that is an intriguing idea. The only down side to this dish was the fact that after chopping all of the onions and caramelizing them for the first hour, I hopped into my friend's car smelling like a giant, walking, buttery, caramelized onion. Attractive in a soup, not so much in a car mate.
On the bright side, if I keep this up, I will have my Kitchen Aid pasta attachment in no time.







BEST FRENCH ONION SOUP



Serves 6.   Published January 1, 2008.   From Cook's Illustrated.
Sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, will make this recipe overly sweet. Be patient when caramelizing the onions in step 2; the entire process takes 45 to 60 minutes. Use broiler-safe crocks and keep the rim of the bowls 4 to 5 inches from the heating element to obtain a proper gratinée of melted, bubbly cheese. If using ordinary soup bowls, sprinkle the toasted bread slices with Gruyère and return them to the broiler until the cheese melts, then float them on top of the soup. We prefer Swanson Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth and Pacific Beef Broth. For the best flavor, make the soup a day or 2 in advance. Alternatively, the onions can be prepared through step 1, cooled in the pot, and refrigerated for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe.

INGREDIENTS

Soup
3tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 3 pieces
6large yellow onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices (see illustration below)
Table salt
2cups water , plus extra for deglazing
1/2cup dry sherry
4cups low-sodium chicken broth (see note)
2cups beef broth (see note)
6sprigs fresh thyme , tied with kitchen twine
1bay leaf
Ground black pepper
Cheese Croutons
1small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
8ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. 1. For the soup: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Generously spray inside of heavy-bottomed large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Place butter in pot and add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, 1 hour (onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot. Return pot to oven with lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.
  2. 2. Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. (Scrape any fond that collects on spoon back into onions.) Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
  3. 3. Stir in broths, 2 cups water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.
  4. 4. For the croutons: While soup simmers, arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in 400-degree oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
  5. 5. To serve: Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1 3/4 cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyère. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.