Iwas out in pelting rain the other day and when I got inside, all I could think of was onion soup. It's a creation that's warm, comforting and rich with bread and melted, gooey cheese, a combination sure to take the chill out of my bones.
That version of the soup is known as onion soup grat-inÃ©e, although some simply call it French onion soup.
For inspiration on making it well, I remembered a video I came across at julia.cookstr.com, a website featuring recipes, videos and other information from the classic book and PBS television show Julia and Jacques Cook at Home.
The hosts of that show are legendary gourmets Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. I used their technique in today's recipe, but adjusted things to match my preferences. I also offer a few of my own tips.
To make the soup, of course, you have to slice onions, a task that brings tears to many an eye.
When slicing an onion, you cut through cells that contain highly volatile sulphur compounds, which are released into the air and, if they reach your eyes, can cause tearing.
To help mitigate that, several sources say to keep your onions refrigerated, as the cold temperature reduces the volatility of those compounds. If you do store your onions at room temperature before cutting, pop them into the freezer for 10 minutes or until they're well chilled.
Once the onions are cut and in the pot with a bit of thyme and cooking fat, Child instructs you to cook them over moderate heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Although it's not shown on the TV show, their book says to cover the onions during this process, which creates steam that keeps the onions moist as they become tender.
When they are tender, the heat gets turned up slightly and the onions are cooked, uncovered, and stirred frequently until dark brown and caramelized, about 20 to 25 minutes. This step intensifies the onions' flavour and, when stock is added to the pot, gives the soup a marvellously rich colour.
I don't know if onions these days have a higher sugar content, but I found it took only about 15 minutes to get them to caramelize and be a rich, dark colour.
When the stock is added, the soup is simmered just 10 minutes. This varies quite a bit from other recipes I've read, where the onion soup is simmered 30 minutes or more. But Pepin notes the onions have already cooked a long time before the stock is added, so there is no need to simmer the soup for a long period.
Child likes a splash of red wine in her onion soup. Pepin says he has seen white wine added. I went with Child's choice because, as she noted, it enhances the colour of the soup even more.
When the soup is done, it's time to transfer it to bowls. There are many styles of onion soup bowls - see the photo below - but all must be ovenproof, because a hot oven is where it becomes "onion soup gratinÃ©e."
To do that, toasted baguette slices are placed in the bowls and the soup poured in. Dieticians, you might want to cover your eyes, because on the TV show, Pepin says to top each soup with almost a cup of Swiss emmental or Gruyere cheese. It's important to use a generous amount of cheese to ensure it spans the entire surface of the soup, creating a lovely top when baked.
Pepin bakes the soup at 400 F for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cheese is dark golden and a crust has formed. The soup at this point is fiery hot and, as Child quips on the show, you would need Pepin's "asbestos tongue" to enjoy it straight away.
I didn't bake my soup that long. Because it is already warm when ladled into the bowls, I found that after 15 minutes in the oven it was bubbling hot and had a very tasty-looking top. It takes several minutes before it is cool enough to eat, but while it is sitting on your table, slowly cooling, it will fill your dining room with the most wonderful aroma. That aroma made me feel that rainy days aren't so bad after all.
Eric Akis is the author of the just-published hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
FRENCH ONION SOUP GRATINÃE
This "meal in a bowl" will make a nice supper when accompanied with rich red wine. For a two-course meal, serve a salad to start, something you can enjoy while the soup bakes.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 medium to large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced (about 1 1/4 lbs)
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 tsp dried
6 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken stock
1/3 cup red wine
? salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
12 diagonally cut slices of baguette, about 1/2-inch thick, toasted (see Note)
3 cups grated Gruyere or emmen-tal cheese (about 225 grams)
Place the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and set over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the onions and thyme. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to soften and become translucent, about 10 minutes.
Uncover, turn the heat up slightly and cook, stirring frequently and watching carefully to avoid burning them, until the onions are a rich brown colour, about 15 minutes.
Add the stock, bring to a simmer and scrape the bottom of the pot with a spoon to lift off any brown bits. Simmer soup 10 minutes, and then stir in the wine. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Set 4 large French onion soup bowls on a baking sheet. (My bowls each had a 12-oz. capacity.) Set 3 slices of toasted baguette in each bowl, breaking them in half if needed to make them fit. Fill the bowls with soup. Top each bowl with a generous amount of the cheese; ensuring it reaches the edges of the bowl. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the soup is bubbling and the cheese has melted and is a rich golden colour. Unless you have Jacques Pepin's asbestos tongue, let the soup cool a bit before enjoying.
Note: To toast the baguette slices, place on a baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly toasted.
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