French onion soup.
It holds a special place in my heart. This soup...this wonderful, rich soup was the first non-Korean food I tasted as a little boy growing up in Korea. I still remember sitting down at TGI Friday's at the naive age of 5 and being told (more like forced really) to eat this by my mother.
"Here, eat this." she said as she pushed this odd looking concoction in front of me. "You will like this".
Any response other than yes would've resulted in a scolding (an Asian one with bamboo sticks involved most likely) so I reluctantly picked up my spoon and broke apart the gooey, cheese layer. Underneath it? A dark, brown liquid with bits of onion floating about - one of the many veggies I detested at that age. But it didn't smell like onions. It smelled savory, it smelled sweet it actually smelled...good! So in a leap of faith, I dug in - cheese, onions, croutons and all. The rest is history. I fell in love with French onion soup that day and I still remember the taste and how good - how so damn tasty - a non-Korean food could be.
I've been eating this stuff for the past 16 years now. If it's on the menu, I'll order it - no matter how crappy or franchisetastic the restaurant is. The French onion soup recipe in the Les Halles Cookbook was one of the first recipes I bookmarked and it's one I'd been holding off for too long. Last week's chilly weather finally got my lazy ass to the store to buy one of those cool looking soup bowls to make this at home.
Like most soups, this is a pretty straightforward dish. There's onions involved - a lot of onions -, bacon (are we still bacon crazy in 2010?) and a generous mound of Gruyere cheese at the end. The most difficult part about making this soup is slicing all the onions - I was wearing contacts and I still managed to end up in tears. After that, it's cruise control baby. Ready to do this? Let's go...
For 8 people (or just for yourself, no one's judging), you need 8 large onions - I'm talking softball large. You're also gonna need a stick and half of butter, port wine, balsamic vinegar, strong dark chicken stock, 4 strips of thick bacon, a bouquet garni, a baguette and some real Gruyere. Don't you dare get Swiss cheese anywhere near this soup.
Start out by getting your "meez" together. Slice all of those onions thinly making sure that the TV isn't on some daytime soap opera or Oprah just in case someone decides to drop in unexpectedly. Next, in a big pot, melt the stick and half of butter (that's 1.5 sticks or 6 ounces - it's not a typo) and throw the onions in once the butter starts to brown. Cook the onions over medium heat stirring every once in a while until they're soft, tender and browned. I actually sprinkled over about a tablespoon of sugar a few minutes before the onions finished browning to further caramelize the onions. Once that's done, raise the heat to medium-high and add about a quarter cup of port and balsamic vinegar each to deglaze the bottom of the pot. Make sure you scrape up all of that tasty, brown stuff at the bottom with a wooden spoon. After deglazing, add about 2 quarts of dark chicken stock. Beef stock will also do in a pinch. Toss in your bouquet garni and diced bacon. Crank the heat to high and bring up to a boil.
Once it's at a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, season with salt and pepper and let it ride for an hour, skimming off any impurities (the soapy, foam stuff) as they rise to the top. Being the
lazy efficient person that I am, I didn't tie the bouquet garni together - don't be like me. Tie it together so it's easier to take out once the soup finishes simmering. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and toast some baguette croutons.
Line a baking sheet with foil and rub a thin layer of olive oil all around. Place the sliced baguettes on top and drizzle with more olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Pop the tray in and let it toast up. It should take 8 - 10 minutes, maybe longer or shorter. Just keep an eye on them. Once the soup finishes simmering, take out the bouquet garni and get ready to put the soup together.
Preheat the oven to the highest temperature setting. As high as you can go, broil, 500 degrees F - whatever. Pour soup into an oven-safe bowl and place crouton(s) on top. On top of the crouton, place a generous mound of Gruyere cheese (you've already used a stick and half of butter, are you really that concerned about calories by this point?). As the cheese melts, it'll flatten out and excess cheese sticking to the side of the bowl is perfectly fine. Pop the constructed soup into the oven and let the cheese melt. Once it's completely melted and golden, serve immediately. Remember - the soup handle is hot. Be careful. If you really want to take it over the top, get out your blow torch and make irregular burn marks here and there.