Friday, December 14, 2012

Onion Soup, French or Otherwise

A few days ago I lied on Facebook, alas...or perhaps I should say I misled. I said making onion soup was easy. (I think I called it French onion soup – no idea why it’s called French, but that’s what it usually goes by on restaurant menus.) Anyway, French or not, making this soup is easy – but not the kind of easy where you toss a few ingredients together and a few minutes later, you’ve got it. It does require a bit of planning and a little time. 

First of all, make a hearty beef stock. Usually, I do it with some stewing beef – with or without bones, since the point here is to use plenty of meat to get lots of flavor. I do it the day or the week or whatever before – it freezes fine. Never, ever use bouillon cubes or canned stock. It’s just not the same.

Hearty Beef Stock:

1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 lb or so of beef, cut into chunks
Several cups of water - more than enough to cover the meat
Salt and pepper

You can brown the onions and beef a bit first, or not. Add the water and seasonings and simmer covered until the meat is done. Save the meat for some other purpose – such as to put in a meat pie or a casserole. Lots of casseroles habitually done with ground beef are as good or better with chunks. Freeze the stock or use it to make the onion soup right away or within the next couple of days. You can leave the onions in the stock or use them with the meat for your pie or casserole.

Onion Soup
2 to 3 cups of onions, thinly sliced
Butter, ghee or vegetable oil (but butter and ghee taste better). Use plenty.
6 cups (or more) beef stock
French bread, sliced (ah! – maybe that’s why it’s called French onion soup)
Grated cheese – usually something relatively sharp like Cheddar (not at all French) or Swiss (closer, but still not French), but you can use milder cheese if you prefer. Use more or less cheese according to taste.
Brown the onions slowly in the fat. Take your time. You want them good and browned, and if a few of them get a bit burned, it's all right. Usually I put them on low heat and just stir them from time to time. Then add the stock. If you don’t have six cups of stock, add some water. The proportion of liquid to onions is a matter of taste. I like my soup thick with onions, but if you prefer it with lots of broth, go for it and add even more water. Simmer the soup covered for 20 to 30 minutes. Season to taste, but be careful with the salt, because the cheese will add some saltiness.

Transfer the soup to a casserole (or individual ramekins, if you prefer). Cover with slices of bread and grated cheese.  Put under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.  

See, it is pretty easy – but you have to plan the stock ahead of time, and it does take a while to cook. It’s well worth the effort. YUM.

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