Tuesday, October 7, 2008

French Onion Soup for the Soul

Even the price of soup bones is up. Sheesh. I wandered around the farmer's market Saturday looking for something to boil for stock—can you believe they can sell bones for more than three dollars a pound? And the poultry stands had been out of necks and backs for hours. Somebody else needed soup, too, I guess. 3-Corner Field Farm to the rescue—lamb bones would have to do.

I made the stock on Sunday, simmering the bones about six hours with carrots and an onion. Monday, I caramelized the onions for at least 45 minutes, deglazing the pot several times with a few drips of Portuguese red wine and incorporating the browned bits into the caramelized onion mass. Tuesday, this made the perfect quick slow-cooked dinner. Rather than making up individual bowls, I floated the croutons on the soup right in the dutch oven, topping with Emmenthaler cheese.

After fifteen minutes in a hot oven, the cheese browned and we dipped in. The broth was rich and full, but not gamey—with all the onions, wine, etc, a blind taster would never guess that I used lamb bones for the stock. Miles better than canned, though.

Perhaps "tightening our belts" isn't the right term for a meal that involves at least a half-pound of cheese, but this one was easy on the budget, and soothing to make and eat.

French Onion Soup
Riffing on this and this recipe.
Serves 4

For the soup
2 T olive oil or—better—a mix of olive oil and butter.
6-8 large onions—a mix of red and yellow, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
Kosher salt
1 cup red wine, plus a little extra for deglazing
1/3 cup bourbon (sherry or cognac if you have it.)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
6 cups lamb stock (or a mix of beef and chicken broth)
3 springs thyme, leaves only
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper

For the croutons
3/4 of one small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 lb Emmenthaler cheese, grated in long strips if possible

Place the butter and olive oil in a 6-qt dutch oven and add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook gently, at medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. Move onions to the side of the pot and pour a teaspoon or so of red wine where the onions have stuck, scraping the brown bits from the pan and incorporating them into the onions and letting the wine evaporate. Continue cooking, repeating the deglazing every few minutes‚ a total of about 5 times. Cook until the onions are very soft and brown, 45 min to an hour total.

Stir in the bourbon (or sherry) and cook until it evaporates. Add broth, remaining wine, thyme, bay leaf, a pinch of salt, scraping up any remaining brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring in the vinegar halfway through. Remove bay leaves, add salt and pepper to taste. (At this point, I cooled the soup and refrigerated overnight, allowing the flavors to meld. Also, it was late by this point. And I'd already eaten.)

Return soup to a simmer. Preheat oven to 450. Arrange bread slices on a baking sheet and dry out slightly in the oven, about 8 minutes. Turn off stovetop and arrange croutons on surface of the soup. Gently sprinkle in the cheese. Cook for 10-15 minutes in oven, uncovered, or until cheese is golden. You could do this with a broiler if you didn't have one of those stupid under-the-oven ones.


Y said...

Oh man, what a tasty looking dish! I'm regretting not making something similar when the weather was colder here.

Laura said...

Yum! Good to know the lamb bones worked out!

Rebecca said...

One of my favorites--can't wait to try out your recipe, maggie! You certainly know your onions, girl. :)

maggie said...

yeah...perhaps we've been overdoing it on the onions a little. but at our farmer's market, even some of the POTATOES are four dollars a pound...

maggie said...

Though I don't know if I'm done with onions...this alsatian tart looks good too!

Anonymous said...

You did a great job on this soup! Can you believe the prices!? The butcher used to give the bones away. I miss the good ol days :)

Heather said...

French onion soup is one of my favorite things, but tragically, caramelized onions (and roasted garlic) tear up my stomach (and lower GI region) like nobody's business.

...sometimes I just suffer though.

Terry B said...

Far from "making do," lamb bones sound like a delicious change of pace! Beautiful looking soup, Maggie, so comforting and homey. When making stock, you might also consider throwing in a parsnip. It just seems to add to the depth and "stockiness" of the finished product.

Natalie said...

Love French Onion Soup - I've never seen it done all together in one big pot - looks delicious!

Esi said...

My friend and I were just talking about French onion soup the other day and it made me hungry for some. Looks great!!

Anonymous said...

Reading about the effort you put into your stock must have resulted in the most delicious onion soup.

Thanks for finding me so I could find you!

Anonymous said...

Wow! This sounds so great! I have a long love affair with French Onion Soup. I will definitely have to try this!

Iron Chef Shellie said...

mmmm.. you have me craving french onion soup at 8:30am!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! I just discovered that my wife and I had double-purchased onions, and suddenly I needed to go through two pounds of onions before they went bad... and almost everything else in the ingredients is something we had a bit of left from another "special" dinner!

So amusingly, I'm part-way through this recipe, with a slightly different "alternate" meat choice: I'm using the scrapings and stock from a German dinner I did recently, which involved elk steaks! I deglazed the onions four times; the first with balsamic vinegar (left over from a baked brie-and-baguette appetizer), the third with Jura scotch (the closest to bourbon I have on hand - it's quite sweet for a scotch), and the other two with pomace that I'd saved from when I made cherry wine some months ago.

I'll let you know how it comes out!

maggie said...

Awesome! I'm all about making do with what you have.