Monday, April 5, 2010

French Onion Soup

Since developing the worst cold in the history of the planet I have been making a lot of soup.   Some pots have been good, some pots have been really, really bad.   So yesterday when I discovered a bounty of onions in the pantry I decided to make French Onion Soup.

I am a huge fan of French Onion soup; I will order it whenever I get a chance; and I have a running tally of who in town serves the best bowl.   This recipe is outstanding.  The cooking technique utilized here allows you to slowly cook the onions in the oven which keeps you from browining them to quickly (which I always do) and it releases you from the constant stirring at the stove.   Another great thing about this recipe is that the Cooks Illustrated version calls for using 2/3 chicken stock and 1/3 beef stock, I didn't make it with chicken stock because I was out, but it is great from my non-red-meat eating friends if we could use all chicken stock.   I will try it with just chicken stock next time.

French Onion Soup
Based on a recipe from Cook's Illustrated.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 3 pieces
6 large yellow onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole
Table salt
3 cups water , plus extra for deglazing
1/2 cup dry sherry
6 cups beef broth
1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper

1 small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyère/Swiss cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Generously spray inside of heavy-bottomed large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Place butter in pot and add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, 1 hour (onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot. Return pot to oven with lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.

Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. (Scrape any fond that collects on spoon back into onions.) Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.

Stir in broth, 3 cups water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

For the croutons: While soup simmers, arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in 400-degree oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler.  1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyère/Swiss Cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes.  Put soup into bowls and add crouton.   Note if you have oven safe bowls you can prepare the crouton right in the soup bowl.

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