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Friday, February 16, 2007

Soul-Warming French Onion Soup

onion soup

Can you imagine eating anything else except soup during this frigid February?  Every year I make a batch of onion soup at about this time--I only make it once because I always forget how long it takes to caramelize that enormous pile of onions, and frankly, about halfway through it I truly wonder what the hell I'm doing and if it's really worth all the work.

It must be, or I wouldn't be writing about it, now would I?  True, so very true, my careful readers, but it is a recipe that demands a food processor--I wouldn't even attempt it without one to do all the slicing (and after reading not martha, not without a pair of these either).  My mother, I remember,  did all the slicing herself, and she also made it many, many more times than just once a year, but the sixties were different, you know?  Just days of yore and lots more hard work.

So fire up the Cuisinart, strap on your goggles, and turn on your ventilation fan.  All your hard work will pay off in spades as you sip you way through the pot, bowl by bowl,and cup by cup over the next few days.  Amanda Hesser had an older, decidedly different version (circa 1907) this past Sunday in the New York Times, but personally I rely on Julia Child for essentials like this recipe.  My only change (and I only dare to make it because Julia's no longer with us) is to use both beef broth and chicken broth as my base.  Julia called for beef bouillon and water (in my mother's copy of the The French Chef Cookbook that I use) but I'm not so sure about how that translates these days, and although I do make chicken stock, beef stock hasn't made it yet into my repertoire.

carmelizing onions

Recipe after the jump . . . 

Julia Child's Soul-Warming French Onion Soup

3 Tb. butter
1 1/2 lbs. or about 6 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
1 t. salt
1/2 t. sugar
3 Tb. flour
5 cups chicken broth
3 cups beef broth
6 cups homemade beef broth
1 c. red wine
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. rubbed sage
salt & pepper
1 baguette
1 1/2 c. grated Gruyère or Emmentaler

Melt the butter in a dutch oven and add the sliced onions. Cover pan and cook until translucent (15 minutes or so), stirring occasionally.  Uncover pan, turn up heat to medium-high and add salt and sugar.  Stirring frequently, cook for another 20-30 minutes (I set a timer so that I don't give up at about the ten-minute mark) until the onions are deep brown and jammy. Heat broth to a simmer in a separate pan.

Lower heat under onions and add flour. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring continuously, to brown the flour. Remove from heat and whisk in one cup of the hot broth.  Add the rest of the broth, wine, and herbs, and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes and then taste to adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Ladle into heat-proof bowls and top with 3-4 toasted baguette slices and grated cheese.  Broil until bubbly on top.  Serve; eat yours, being careful not to burn the roof of your mouth, and then eat your children's (what's wrong with these kids??).  Reserve the rest for lunch for the rest of the weekend and refuse to see why soup-saturated bread and cheese might appear unpalatable to an eight-year-old.

Note:  In The French Chef Cookbook (©1968), dear Julia gamely includes a recipe using DEHYDRATED onion soup as well.  And that, my friends, is how she changed the way America eats.  She was a woman of not only of grace and intelligence but supreme pragmaticism as well.


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Your soup looks great but I can never wrestle it away from my girls. They love it in the winter time. I must admit that I slice the onions by hand, and I use good quality beef boullion cubes and white wine, surprising but it makes the best base! For years I tried to get the soup just right using what seemed logical (red wine) but I couldn't get it the way I wanted until I started using white wine.

There is nothing better during cold season than a bowl of onion soup, but I never have leftovers!

Deborah Dowd

I was the same way as a child and that's why I've been so surprised (and annoyed) that my children don't love it. White wine seems like a logical choice when you think about it . . . hmmm. I think I'll make a half-batch and give it a try.

Yum Yum!! Thanks for this recipe reminder- and there's just enough February left to make some!!

A mandoline is also a nice way to slice quickly and evenly (even very thin).

I'm having a Julia moment right now too. I'm currently reading "My Life in France". A wonderful read! I have an need for good french onion soup...looks like this is it!

After reading the comments here and a post about MaxPower's experience with this recipe, I cross-referenced Julia's French Chef recipe with the one she has in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and there she reduces the wine to half a cup and recommends either a dry white or vermouth (Julia always liked using vermouth because she said everyone--in the sixties--usually has it around and it doesn't go bad--although how you can tell if vermouth is bad is another subject entirely). I'm not going to change and re-publish my recipe at the moment but I am going to try it this way the next I make it.

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