My Comfort: French Onion Soup
Cures every ailment known to mankind. No, not really. But, a steaming bowl of glossy, rich brown French Onion Soup is a great big comfort when all the coughs, colds and flu start their winter rounds. I am failing to take a decent picture of this soup. There is a small pic at the end of the post to give the general idea, but in real life it is far more appetising than this!
Ingredients (Makes around 1-1.5 Pints or 3/4 litre and would serve 3-4):
- 3/4 Kilo (around 1.5 lb) of White Onions, I used 3 large, rather ordinary Tesco Onions, they were super fresh though.
- 1 1/4 Litres (2 Pints) of Beef Stock, or seriously, just use two beef Oxo cubes made up with boiling water, the taste is still sensational
- 2 Cloves Garlic, minced, use three or more if very small.
- 120 g Butter, salted or unsalted, does not really matter unless you are on a low-salt diet or you know your stock is mega-salty, there are opportunities to adjust the seasoning if needed
- A tiny drizzle of Olive Oil just to make sure the butter does not burn
- Teaspoon ordinary granulated Sugar to aid the caramelising process
- Glass of dry White Wine
- Cheesy garlic croutons to serve on top. Slices of store-bought garlic bread, cooked in the oven, heaped with grated cheese and grilled/broiled are an easy way to make these.
Peel and cut the onions in half and then slice thinly into half-moons. Next, melt the butter in a large, heavily based pot over a low heat and add in a drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions and turn the heat up just enough so that the onions start to soften. Stir round from time to time. When they are glassy and transparent and softened (about 25 minutes for this amount of onions on my stove) add the sugar and turn the heat up again so that the onions start to brown around the edges. Then, turn the heat back down so that the caramelising process takes places at a very gentle pace, adding in the minced garlic at this stage. I hesitate to add the garlic any earlier because it burns very easily and burnt garlic is bitter and nasty.
Keep the onions caramelising away for another 20-25 minutes, stirring round every few minutes. The large volume of onions will now have reduced to a sweet, golden brown layer at the bottom of your pot.
De-glaze the pot with the white wine, scraping all the caramel from the bottom of the pot into the onion-wine mix and let that bubble away for a couple of minutes before adding the beef stock. You can add cognac or sherry too, though I don’t really drink spirits so I rarely cook with them either. Season to taste. Bring to a gentle boil, then turn the heat right down again and let the soup barely simmer on a very low heat for another half an hour, lid off. Using a diffuser on a gas burner can help lower the temperature. Check the seasoning before serving with croutons on top, or slices of cheesy toasted garlic bread, or just with hunks of bloomer bread on the side if you like.
- Using fresh beef stock? May need to skim the soup several times.
- The classic way to present this soup involves putting baguette rounds in the bottom of a bowl, ladling in the soup then topping the now floating bread with grated hard Swiss cheese and then putting the (presumably heat-proof) bowls under the grill/broiler to melt the cheese. This has spillage disaster, burnt hands and mouths written all over it, so I would never do this and in any case, there would be minimal flavour or taste advantages.
- This soup does not “keep” at all well as the butter solidifies out of the onions when cooled, and then when re-heated, the soup ends up with a deeply unappetising greasy scum on top. I have seen advice to just scoop this off, which is an option but you would still end up with some greasy scum and lose flavour, so no point IMHP. I have been served some horrible French Onion Soup in restaurants due to re-heating.
- On thickening: there are recipes that suggest you thicken the soup (by adding up to 3 x Tablespoons of flour to the onions before adding in the stock, e.g. according to Julia Child???) but this is really not necessary if you have the volume of onions to stock balanced, the soup holds its own. Each to his or her own though, it is an option. The thought has crossed my mind that the flour might bind the butter and thus enable re-heating with less greasy scum, so will try this next time I make it and report back….