Sunday, November 29, 2009

French Onion Soup

In my life, two things are certain. One, I love my mother. Two, my mother loves French Onion soup more than pretty much any other meal.

So, when I saw the french onion soup recipe in the Les Halles Cookbook, I knew I had to make the dish especially for her. And what better time to do so than when I stay with her over Thanksgiving weekend? I ran it by mom and my sisters, and they all agreed that it might just be the best idea ever. So when Thanksgiving Day came around, Husband J and I trucked two quarts of the dark chicken stock I made last week out to the suburbs so that we could make French Onion soup for the family on Black Friday.

We started out the day by avoiding the Black Friday crowds and heading to the antique mall (where I found a vintage (looking) half bottle of Eau de Joy, score!!!), then shopping for ingredients at the local Whole Foods. Once the onions, port, cheese and baguette were in hand, we faced a different problem--no oven-proof soup crocks. I'd thought of bringing my ramekins from home, but it seemed too much trouble to bring those and all of the chicken stock needed for the soup. But my plan to find adorable vintage onion soup crocks at the antique mall fell through when said adorable crocks didn't exist. There were good looking ones at the Whole Foods, but they were individually packaged with powdered cheese soups (bleh). So Husband J and I did the unthinkable... we ventured into the local K-Mart.

We wandered the aisles, half cowering in fear, gazing at the cheap-ass Martha Stewart collection kitchenwares and the disproportionate number of deep fryers. As we were about to give up, Husband J suddenly found a set of adorable red flower-shaped ramekins, absolutely perfect for our soup purposes. We gleefully snapped up six, and ran home to prepare the soup.

First step is of course, prepare the onions. The recipe calls for one big onion per serving, and chopping six onions proved pretty time consuming, and kind of offensive. I'm not really bothered by chopping onions, but as I went from one to the next, everyone started to complain about watering eyes and started opening windows and turning on fans. I? Shed nary a tear. Weird, right?

Anyway, once chopped, the onions went into the pot to caramelize with a huge load of butter.

It took a while for the onions to get dark and beautiful, but once they were, we poured in some port:

and some vinegar:

and some bacon:

then added the chicken stock and herbs, and brought the whole mess to a boil, then simmer. While the soup simmered, we toasted baguettes brushed with oil to make toasts, grated a ton of Gruyere, and prepared a big salad.


With the soup finished, it's time for the fun part! First float a toast in the bowl, then pile the Gruyere on top. Then put the bowls under a preheated broiler so the cheese melts and chars and forms a crust.

This is where I ran into some problems--Mom's broiler requires that several buttons be pushed before it turns on, and I foolishly only pushed one. The broiler didn't turn on, but the residual heat in the oven melted the cheese into a greasy mess with oil pooling on top of the soups and the baking sheet. I realized what had happened after a minute and turned the broiler on, but the crusts were not as robust as they could have been. I mopped up all the oil I could, and served.

Well, as always, the soup was a huge hit. Mom loved it, which was very satisfying, and to me it tasted exactly like the real thing, what you'd order in a classy French restaurant. (Minus, my grandmother commented, excess salt and gobs of cheese, which I think was a compliment).

Lessons Learned: Make sure the broiler is on before putting the cheese soups under it. Just because you are not affected by onions doesn't mean everyone else is. It is possible to produce delicious french onion soup in your own kitchen. K-Mart is good for something after all.

Next Week: Braised short ribs

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