Friday, October 3, 2014

French Onion Soup – Ooh là là!

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The smell of frying onions reminds me of fairgrounds; of treasure hunting in a drizzly Camden Market; of hotdogs on a New York street corner; of the gently sizzling start of many a comforting soup, stew or casserole.  Proust, you can keep your Madeleines.

What I am after today is something even the fickle sugar rush of chocolate can’t provide. I need a bowl of no-nonsense, unapologetically pungent, solidly satisfying French onion soup with a lid of thick cheesy croutons.

Just as Ooh là là! has acquired a different meaning in English, French onion soup has come to mean an onion soup made with beef broth. However, if you can get someone to make you this dish in France, it is just as likely to be made with a chicken stock or just plain water. I’ve chosen a middle ground, going for chicken stock, as I find the beef version too ... well, too beefy. I’m in an onion sort of mood and that’s what I want this soup to sing of.

(The traditional method is to place the croutons on the soup, cover with cheese and put the whole lot under a hot grill but I find that preparing the croutons separately is quicker and safer.)

To create a little Ooh là là! for about 4 people you will need...
...for the soup
75g butter
1kg onions, peeled and sliced thinly into half moons
1L good chicken stock (or 350mls dry white wine and 650mls stock)
2 tablespoons of whiskey or brandy (optional)
a small bunch of thyme
2 or 3 bay leaves
time and patience (about 2 hours worth)
a little salt and black pepper to taste 

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat and add the onions. Turn down the heat and cook the onions gently until they have reduced dramatically in volume and have turned a deep caramel brown (anything up to 2 hours), stirring occasionally, particularly towards the end.

Add the stock, whiskey or brandy (if using), and the bunch of thyme and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

At this point it is ready to serve, however, I prefer to leave it cool, then chill it in the fridge overnight. I scrape off and discard any butter than has congealed on the top before reheating while I make the croutons.
Transform the humble onion into a pot of gold
... for the croutons
8 slices of baguette, about 1.5cm thick
1 clove garlic, peeled
100g Gruyere (or a mixture of Gruyere and Mozzarella) grated

Place the slices of baguette on a baking tray and bake at about 175°C for about 15 minutes or until golden, turning once about half way through the time. Leave to cool.

When the soup is ready to serve, rub the croutons lightly with the clove of garlic, place on a baking tray and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Place under a hot grill until golden and bubbling.

Ladle the soup into bowls and launch two croutons on the surface of each golden oniony sea. Serve immediately. Ooh là là !
Ooh là là !

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