French Onion Soup

Recipe of the Week
 
French Onion Soup
& Julia Child’s Beef Stock

 
Courtesy of
Richard Blunt
 

Thirty-some years ago the publisher, Dave Duffy, the food editor, Richard Blunt, and I all lived in or near Boston.

Butch, that’s Richard Blunt, had a real job and he was on his way to becoming a real chef. I can’t remember what Dave was doing at the time. I, however, was playing in low stakes poker games trying to make ends meet and all I remember now is that Dave and I were perennially broke. Nonetheless, Dave and I liked the good life, or whatever we could afford of it, and one of our luxuries was a restaurant Dave had found near the Public Gardens, on Tremont Street, called Dino’s. There he discovered one of the best soups he had ever had. It was a thin onion soup they served with melted cheese and croutons. It was the cheapest thing on the menu. But it was like heaven. Soon, whenever we scraped together enough money between us, the two of us were at Dino’s having a bowl of this incredible soup along with a glass or two of wine. Life didn’t get any better than this for two poor slobs like us.

Of course, we couldn’t keep this a secret from Butch and, pretty soon, we invited him along on one of our forays. And once again, we dined on this elegant soup and drank our wine, talking all the time, while Butch quietly ate his soup.

“What do you think?” Dave asked him. “Good, huh?”

Butch was noncommital.

And when we finished, we left, glad to have shared Dave’s find with another friend. And right there this story would have ended, except that about a week later, and after Dave and I had made several more trips to the restaurant, I got a call from Butch.

“Why don’t you guys come over?” he asked. “I’ve got something I want you to try.”

So later that day, Dave and I were at his door.

“Come in,” he said.

We walked in and the place smelled different. It smelled great.

“Into the kitchen,” Butch said, and we followed him.

“Have a seat.”

So we sat. And the three of us talked and joked while Butch puttered around. We watched him put some pots, that looked like little bean pots, into the oven. (To someone from Boston, lots of things look like bean pots.)

“What is it?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” he replied.

Several minutes later he opened the oven door again and, with pot holders, he took each of the little pots out of the oven and placed one in front of each of us. I now saw that each little pot had a cover that was made of toast with cheese melted on it.

He handed each of us a spoon.

Dave and I stared.

“How do we eat it?” I asked.

Butch hesitated for a moment. “Well, you take your spoon, poke a hole through the crust, and eat the soup inside. Or you can pull the toast off and eat it that way. But I like to break it into the soup like croutons.

I broke mine into the soup. So did Dave. And we began to eat.

“Holy cow, what is this,” I asked.

“Onion soup,” he said. “I thought I’d try making it after you guys had me try it at Dino’s.”

I looked around as I ate it. There were just these three pots. So I savored what was in front of me knowing that, once it was gone, there would be no seconds.

Slowly, he began to talk about how he made it. How told us how he had made his stock, how he had chosen the bread and the cheese, and what he thought was missing from the soup at Dino’s.

As a result of that afternoon, I was never able to go back to the restaurant. I don’t think Dave did either. I don’t want to say their soup was garbage…actually, I do, but maybe it wasn’t. What I do want to say is that I have added this soup to my list of favorite soups which include a good homemade chicken soup, the Portuguese soup called kale soup, a Filipino soup made with a tamarind base that’s called pangsinigang sa sampalok, and a Thai soup made with chicken, galanga , and coconut milk that’s called gai tom kar.

Years later Butch mentioned that this soup was the first one he ever mastered. And master it he did.

And today, we at Backwoods Home Magazine, are putting it on line to share with the world.

–John Silveira


When folks see “Classic French” preceding a recipe, visions of complex procedures and exotic ingredients often come to mind. In many recipes this is true. It is due to the fact that the recipe is the end product of the one or several innovators adding what they believe are contemporary improvements to an ancient and simple recipe they feel needs more sophistication and complexity.

French Onion soup is a classic because it is at it’s best when prepared with only basic ingredients, using long standing and simple preparation procedures.

Herbs and spices are noticeably non-existent in this recipe, simply because they do not enhance the flavor or aroma of this wonderful soup. When an experienced chef wants to add a little flair to this soup, he or she will serve it Gratineed, which simply means topping the partially cooked soup with croutons made from home baked French or Italian bread that have been topped with shredded Gruyere cheese and baking the soup in a moderately hot oven until bubbly.

When prepared this way you serve the soup with a large mixed green salad, more fresh baked bread and your favorite wine. Simple pleasures like this fully represent classic French cooking.

–Richard Blunt
 

INGREDIENTS

4 Tbsp light olive oil
8 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 level Tbsp flour
2 1/2 qts your best home made beef stock
4 Tbsp good brandy

Note: Homemade beef and chicken stocks, when made properly, do not contain flavor enhancers like salt and pepper. This important feature makes homemade stock more versatile in many different recipes, and absolutely essential in this one. (See below for Bonus recipe – Julia Child’s Beef Stock)

METHOD

1. Set a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Cover the pan and cook the onions slowly until they are tender and translucent. This will take about ten minutes.

2. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium high, and stir in the sugar. Continue to cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they take on a dark walnut brown color. This will take about 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Sprinkle in the flour and continue to cook the onions while stirring for an additional 2 minutes.

4. Remove the onions from the heat and set them aside (without removing them from the pot) to cool a little.

5 While the onions are cooling, heat the stock to a slow simmer. Stir about 3 cups of hot stock into the onions along with the brandy. Return this mixture to the stove over medium high heat and bring it to a simmer. Cook this mixture while gently stirring for about 3 minutes.

6. Add the remaining stock, loosely cover the pot, and slowly simmer the soup for about one and a half hours.

7. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper before serving

Well my friends, there is the recipe. I hope you will have fun preparing and eating this classic example of basic French cooking.

–Richard Blunt

 
Julia Child’s Beef Stock

There are endless variations of this cook’s essential ingredient.

Over the years I have prepared and used many of them. The following is a recipe that Julia Child demonstrated on her cooking show so long ago that I can’t remember the year. It is, in my opinion, the best tasting and most versatile stock you can make.

She started the show shouting, “WHAM, WHAM,” as she broke a number of large beef bones into smaller pieces, using a huge tenderizing mallet and bigger cleaver. I have to admit that I was, initially, more curious as to whether she was going to cut her arm off than I was about the recipe she was demonstrating. But she only slobbered a couple of times as her face vibrated from the force that she was exerting on the mallet.

This recipe requires about a 6-hour shift in the kitchen, most of which is hurry-up-and-wait time. So make sure that you have some other interesting activity that will keep you close to the kitchen and help fill in the dead time.

–Richard Blunt
 

INGREDIENTS

4 pounds beef bones (cut into 3 inch pieces)
2 each large carrots, onions, and celery ribs (roughly chopped)
7 quarts cold water (if you have lousy tap water, buy bottled)
3 large cloves fresh garlic (Smashed or as Julia would say,” WHAM, “)
1/2 cup canned Italian plum tomato (roughly chopped)
1 each herb bouquet
Tie, in a piece of cheese cloth, 4 allspice berries, 6 black peppercorns, 1/2 tsp dried thyme, 1 small bay leaf, and 4 sprigs of fresh parsley (roughly chopped)

METHOD

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Arange the bones and 1/2 cup of each vegetable in a large roasting pan to form a single layer. Roast this mixture, turning frequently, until the bones turn a walnut brown. Transfer the roasted bones and vegetables to a suitable size stock pot.

2. Discard the fat and then de-glaze the pan. To do this: set the pan on the large burner on the stove top, add 2 cups of water to the pan, bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan. Add the pan juices to the bones and the vegetables in the pot.

3. Add the herb bouquet and the rest of the vegetables to the pot along with enough water to cover the ingredients by at least two inches. Bring this mixture to a simmer on top of the stove. Initially there will be a grayish scum that will rise to the top of the pot. Keep alert for this and continuously scoop it out until it no longer appears.

4. Loosly cover the pot. Continue to cook the stock at a constant slow simmer for at least 4 hours. Skim off any fat that forms on top and add a little boiling water from time to time, especially if you notice that the stock level in the pot has dropped.

5. Strain the stock through a colander into large bowl and carefully remove any grease that rises to the surface. Strain the stock again. This time, line the colander with a double layer of cheese cloth.

6. Pour the stock into a clean roasting pan and allow it to cool at room temperature. This step must be complete in less then 2 hours to prevent the growth of spoilage bacteria.

7. Transfer the cooled stock into suitable size container and refrigerate or freeze.








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