Our host for October was Sara of imafoodblog.com, she choose Onion Soup (I am not sure how it differs from French onion soup) by Thomas Keller. The recipe is surprisingly easy but it is crucial to read it all the way thru before you start.
Onion Soup - Soupe A L'Oignon
Thomas Keller - Bouchon
makes 6 servings
2 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns
6 large sprigs of thyme
8 pounds (about 8 large) yellow onions
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour
3 1/2 quarts Beef Stock (recipe below)
Freshly ground black pepper
Sherry wine vinegar
1 baguette (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6 to 12 slices (1/8 inch thick) aged Comte or Emmentaler cheese (at least 4 inches square)
1 1/2 cups grated aged Comte or Emmentaler cheeses, or a combination
The more basic the soup, the more critical the details: Slice the onions uniformly and brown them very slowly and evenly; slice the bread a half inch thick and dry it completely in the oven; and serve the soup in appropriately sized bowls so that the melted cheese extends over the rim. When you hit it right, there's nothing more satisfying to cook or to eat than this soup.
It's worth reiterating the importance of cooking the onions slowly so that the natural sugars caramelize rather than brown through high heating sautéing. The onions cook for about five hours and need to be stirred often, but they can be made up to two days ahead. The soup is best if refrigerated for a day or two so that the flavors of the onion and beef broth can deepen.
Comte is traditionally the cheese of choice, but Emmentaler works as well. Gruyère is a bit strong. Use an aged cheese; a younger cheese would just melt and wouldn't form a crust.
FOR THE SACHET: Cut a piece of cheesecloth about 7 inches square. Place the bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme in the center, bring up the edges, and tie with kitchen twine to form a sachet.
FOR THE SOUP: Cut off the tops and bottoms of the onions, then cut the onions lengthwise in half. Remove the peels and tough outer layers. Cut a V wedge in each one to remove the core and pull out any solid, flat pieces of onion running up from the core.
Lay an onion half cut side down on a cutting board with the root end toward you. Note that there are lines on the outside of the onion. Cutting on the lines (with the grain) rather than against them will help the onions soften. Holding the knife on an angle, almost parallel to the board, cut the onion lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices. Once you've cut past the center of the onion, the knife angle will become awkward: Flip the onion onto its side, toward the knife, and finish slicing it, again along the grain. Separate the slices of onion, trimming away any root sections that are still attached and holding the slices together. Repeat with the remaining onions. (You should have about 7 quarts of onions)
Melt the butter in a large heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and 1 tablespoon salt, reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring every 15 minutes and regulating the heat to keep the mixture bubbling gently, for about 1 hour, or until the onions have wilted and released a lot of liquid. At this point, you can turn up the heat slightly to reduce the liquid, but it is important to continue to cook the onions slowly to develop maximum flavor and keep them from scorching. Continue to stir the onions every 15 minutes, being sure to scrape the bottom and get in the corners of the pot, for about 4 hours more, or until the onions are caramelized throughout and a rich deep brown. (my note - like a super deep brown, like way browner than you think they need to be. Think poop. Yes I said it.) Keep a closer eye on the onions toward the end of the cooking when the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat. (You will need 1 1/2 cups of onions for the soup; reserve any extra for another use. The onions can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.)
Transfer the caramelized onions to a 5 quart pot (if they've been refrigerated, reheat until hot.) Sift in the flour and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beef stock and sachet, bring to a simmer, and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the liquid is reduced to 2 1/2 quarts. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a few drops of vinegar. Remove from the heat.
FOR THE CROUTONS: Preheat the broiler. Cut twelve 3/8 inch thick slices from the baguette (reserve the remainder for another use) and place on a baking sheet. Brush the bread lightly on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place under the broiler and toast the first side until golden brown, then turn and brown the second side. Set aside and leave the broiler on.
TO COMPLETE: Return the soup to a simmer. Place six flameproof soup tureens, with about 1 1/2 cups capacity on a baking sheet to catch any spills (the soup will bubble up and over the tureens). Add the hot soup to the tureens, filling them within 1/2 inch of the tops. Top each serving with 2 croutons: Lay them on the surface - do not push them into the soup. Lay the slices of cheese over the croutons so that the cheese overlaps the edges of the tureens by about 1/2 inch, Scatter the grated cheese over the sliced cheese, filling in any areas where the sliced cheese is thinner, or it may melt into the soup rather than forming a crust.
Place the tureens under the broiler for a few minutes, until the cheese bubbles, browns, and forms a thick crust. Eat carefully, the soup and tureens will be very hot.
First of all this soup is fantastic! and I have plans to make it again and again. Seriously when you see instruction to cook something until it looks like poop you don't expect the exquisite goodness that is the onions for this soup. I almost stopped right there and just ate the onions with a spoon.
I learned several things when making this recipe, for example 4 onions makes between 4 and 6 coups of pure onion bliss. Also said onions can be frozen for future use (instant soup anyone?). Also a toaster works just as well as a broiler for making toast (imagine that). And lastly, I really want a flame thrower and some of the really cool onion soup bowls.
I am thinking making this with garlic and maybe shallots or leeks could be really nice, maybe in the future...