Saturday, January 31, 2015

The trick to easy French Onion soup

This recipe comes from two sources. Alton Brown's nifty tutorial on caramelizing onions in the microwave and Cook's Country's recipe for onion soup for two. 

It also comes from the fact that Monette's Produce Market offered a 3lb bag of cooking onions for 49 cents.  How do you not take advantage of that?

This recipe uses about a pound of onions and should serve around four. Halve it for two or double it for eight. It's simple and flexible.

Start with four onions. Peel them.

I'm pulling out my trusty mandolin to slice them. If you don't have one, think about getting one. If you are a bride, put it on your registry. If someone asks what you want for your birthday, say a mandolin. Or heck, drive out to Target and pick one up right now. This is the reasonably priced Oxo Good Grips version with adjustable slicing thickness. You can also find more expensive metal and ceramic versions.

You'll want the onions about 1/4" thick with this one. If using the mandolin, skewer that onion with the slicing guide.

Run it back and forth over the regular V blade.

It took 5 minutes from the time of peeling to slice four onions into this neat pile. A bonus is that since the onion juice falls down under the slicer, you won't get weepy.

You can also use a food processor slicing blade or a sharp knife. Next you'll need a glass bowl. I like this four-cup Pyrex measuring cup.  Per Alton's instructions, put half the onions in and sprinkle with kosher salt. Then add the rest of the onions and sprinkle with more Kosher salt.

Cover with plastic wrap.

Alton says to microwave on high for about 10 minutes, I ended only doing it for seven because they were getting brown on the edges.  I'd say go for 10, but check after five and maybe again at eight. It's going to depend on your microwave.  Once they look good and soft carefully take off the plastic wrap. If there's any excess liquid, drain it off.
Now add 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and 1/4 tsp of baking soda. Stir until the butter has melted and it's all incorporated together.
Put it back in the microwave uncovered. Alton suggests microwaving for 15 minutes, draining and then doing it in three minute increments after that and stirring occasionally until they are the right color brown.  I found they were ready to be checked every few minutes after only about 10 minutes.

I did not microwave them down to the very dark color you would want to top burgers or spread on crackers. I went to this stage, since I was using the onions in soup and they would be spending more time on the stove.

I put the caramelized onions, a pat of butter and a good glug of red wine in a pot on the stove.
I cooked on low heat until most of the wine liquid evaporated.  For the soup, I used a 4 cup box of chicken broth, a bay leaf and two sprigs of thyme. If you don't have fresh thyme, use a teaspoon of ground thyme. 

Add the herbs to the pot.
Then the broth. It doesn't look too pretty now, but onion soup isn't that pretty anyway. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Then season to taste with salt and pepper. I also suggest adding a tablespoon of my secret ingredient for soups and stews, soy sauce. Try it, you'll be amazed. Don't forget to remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs before serving.

Of course, what makes French onion soup stand out is the crouton and cheese. I like to use these little sliced baguette, but you could also slice up some hearty, crusty bread. You want just enough bread to cover each bowl of soup, so portion the amount you  use by number of bowls being served.

Now gate some Gruyere or Swiss or pull out some pre-shredded Swill cheese. Not too much. This will be cheesy, but not gloopy with cheese.

Stick the toasts under the broiler for about a minute until they are brown and then flip them to broil the other side. You can also do this in the oven and cook until they are nicely browned on both sides.

Sprinkle toasts with cheese.
Stick it back under the broiler or back in the oven. Under the broiler this will take less than a minute until cheese is beautifully bubbly.  Now dish out the soup into a bowl
Add the cheesy croutons to the top and serve.

As Julia Child would say, Bon Appetit!

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