Well, Town, I’m back from visiting my parents now, so it’s high time I let you know what I was up to. Since my mother likes the kitchen to herself, I don’t cook much when I am home – all I did was rustle up some peppermint-chip avocado ice cream and boterkoek. Since the internet connection there is sporadic at best, I decided to just enjoy my time with family and catch up when I got home.
On our last night there, we all went out for supper at a lovely restaurant uptown. I ordered the French Onion Soup and it was good. I may be overly picky (stop nodding, Town – you’re just as bad as I am!) but that soup was not the soup I am accustomed to getting when I order French Onion Soup: The onions were sweet, white onions that were just barely sweated, not caramelized, and there weren’t that many pieces of them there. It left me hankering for the real thing.
French Onion Soup is the quintessential poor man’s dish. It’s been made since Roman times and there are several ways to make it, but generally it includes:
- Meat broth/consommé
- caramelized yellow onions aplenty
- croute au gratin
Simple, yes? The only catch here is that while it is simple in theory, it is the poster child for low-and-slow cooking. If you want to do it right, it will take at least a day to make everything from scratch (except the bread – like you, Town, yeast never cooperates with my cold little fingers so I have to buy the bread).
If you keep your wits about you, this soup is a fabulous treat that tastes rich, is deeply satisfying yet low calorie, and gives you the softest lips in town! Don’t trust me on this one – try it!
1. Beef Broth/consommé:
First, start by purchasing a beef soup bone from the local butcher. My butcher was sold out of soup bones at the time, so he cut down beef shortribs to use instead.
He also sweetly printed out the instructions for making broth on the attached sticker. Isn’t that nice? 🙂 While I didn’t need it, it was very considerate of him.
The soup bone(s) need to be roasted for maximum flavour, so I rolled them in onion powder and freshly cracked black pepper and put them in the slow cooker.
After 3 1/2 hours on high, the bones were done.
The meat isn’t needed for the broth, so Sweet Baboo and I pried off what we could (it was a delightful accompaniment to our evening salad) and set the fat and bones aside.
The juice from the bottom of the slow cooker was emptied into a dutch oven along with the bones, fat and 10 cups of water. Thrown in a bay leaf or two to amp up the flavour.
Put a lid on the dutch oven, bring it to a boil and then simmer for 3 hours. Once the fat and bones are strained out, the broth is wonderful to smell, but there is one last step: the refrigerator. Put the bowl in the refrigerator overnight so that the fat can rise to the top and solidify. The next morning, this is what you will see:
Ok, perhaps it’s not so appealing at this juncture. Kind of looks like mitochondria propagation videos from science class. Brace thyself and move on. It will work out. Take a spoon and tap the fat – it will break into pieces that you can easily remove and set aside in a waiting bowl.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, keep the fat. It’s important. Read further and you’ll see.
Since you only need 3 cups of broth for four servings of soup (and at this point you have 7 cups of broth), feel free to pour four cups in a mason jar to save for later. On the farm, we liked hot beef broth as an evening drink – it’s low in calories and has no caffeine so it won’t keep you up at night. Not sure if anyone else has ever done that, but we did.
Set the broth and the fat in the refrigerator for now.
A croute is basically a big salad crouton – a piece of bread that’s hardened so that it soaks up the unctuous, silky broth.
I had multigrain ciabatta buns in the freezer, so out one came.
After slicing it in half, I almost slit the two halves into 16 sections. I say almost because I stopped cutting before I hit the crust of the bun. You see, no one wants one big piece of bread surfing around the bowl that can’t be easily separated to help form a perfect spoonful of soup. Cutting it this way helps it stay manageable while you are toasting it (you only have one piece to handle rather than 16) and then once it’s in the drink, the crust will dissolve and make you look like you spent all afternoon perfectly arranging croutons to fill the bowl. Genius!
Four thin slivers of unsalted butter (about 1 Tbsp) are placed on top and then bread is ready to broil. I turned the oven up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and left them in for about 15 minutes.
Once it looks and feels crusty, pull them out and let them cool.
3. Caramelizing the yellow onions
For this recipe, 6 large onions is the perfect number. I didn’t know that I could fit in more than 5 until after I took the picture. Sorry. Slice the onions as thickly as your heart desires. Three cloves of garlic add more zing to the party; just halve the cloves – they will practically melt into the broth later.
Take the beef fat out of the refrigerator. It will add hearty, beefy flavour to the golden onions. Melt it in a frying pan and add the onions and garlic.
Once the onions are on the scene, put a lid on the pan and set the burner to medium low. Give them a chance to get that I-just-got-home-from-the-gym-and-forgot-to-shower glow. That’s when culinary types say they are sweated.
Flip them occasionally. They’ll start to turn brown.
They’re done when they look like this:
It takes roughly half an hour to get to that stage. Some people add wine now and let it cook off, but the onions really don’t need any help. I don’t bother with that.
4. Cheese Please!
Sadly , my grocer had no Gruyère (comte), so I had to use what was already in the pantry. While my marbled cheddar doesn’t sound as poetic, I knew it would bubble enthusiastically and be enchantingly stringy, so it is a great pinch-hitter. Grate 35 grams for each serving.
In ovenproof bowls, layer in 1/2 cup of caramelized onions.
Now gently centre the croute on top of the onions.
Then liberally sprinkle the grated cheese on top.
For each serving , bring 3/4 cup of the beef broth to a boil and pour it over the ingredients in the bowl.
Now slide the bowl(s) of soup into a waiting 450 degree Fahrenheit oven. The cheese will bubble in about 10-15 minutes and then it is really ready to eat. Bon appétit!
- Calories: 350
- Fat: 13.8 g
- Carbs: 31.7 g
- Protein: 9.2 g