Lockdown Recipe of the Day: French Onion Soup
To make a good French onion soup, you need to take lots and lots of time. Roast the onions very slowly for hours and hours, the longer the better. The key to a great French 0nion soup: Caramelisation.
Onions are to many dishes as a tyre is to a car, or a wing to a Boeing. It’s there, it must be there, and most of the time you don’t even notice it’s there, but you’d sure as hell notice if it wasn’t. Without the metaphorical onion, the car would collapse to the tarmac and be rendered useless, a morose heap of self-pitying metal.
There are few dishes, outside of a dessert, in which I will not use the humble onion. You need it in a thousand soups, a million sauces, any number of stews, casseroles, tagines, stir-fries and curries. Chinese cuisine would be half of itself without the spring onion. French cuisine would have to be reinvented.
It would be easy to just cook some sliced onions in butter or oil for 20 minutes and then develop it into a soup and grandly proclaim it to be “French onion soup”, but it would not be.
Another trick when making French onion soup is to love those dark, hard, treacly bits that collect at the bottom of the roasting pan when you have cooked and cooked and cooked, because the more flavour you can gather in this long process, the better your soup is going to be.
4 large onions
3 Tbs butter
Salt to taste
4 or 5 thyme sprigs
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 cups water
1 cup beef stock (please use liquid stock rather than a cube)
1 cup chicken stock (ditto)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices baguette
3 Tbs sherry
1 cup (250 ml) Gruyère cheese, grated
First, peel your whole onions, slice them in half, salt them lightly, and place them in a roasting pan with three tablespoons butter, and roast in a 180ºc oven. Watch their progress. When the onions have attained a caramelised brown hue and are soft, add a cup of water, scrape up the bits at the bottom of the pan, and put them back in again to repeat the process.
Do this three times over a period of three or four hours (even five), and you will end up with onions and a phenomenal amount of flavour. An hour before roasting is complete, add the garlic in its husks.
Now remove them to a heavy pot, scrape up everything you can and add that to the pot. Add a cup each of beef stock and chicken stock, add the thyme, more water if you like, and bring to a simmer.
Use a knife to cut up the onions into pieces manageable for eating, but it need not be pretty and perfectly apportioned. Squeeze out the contents of the garlic into the pot. Check for seasoning and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cool to room temperature and then cover and refrigerate until needed. This is best made a day or even two days ahead.
An hour before you’re ready to serve your soup, bring to room temperature. Lightly toast the baguette slices. Heat the soup, add the sherry, cook for a minute, ladle into bowls and place a round of toasted baguette atop each. Grate Gruyère and sprinkle on top. Place in the middle of a 170ºc to 180ºc oven and heat through (about 30 minutes), allowing the cheese to melt. DM/TGIFood
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This recipe is adapted from one first published in Tony Jackman’s book, foodSTUFF (Human & Rousseau)