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Robin Garr

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RCP: Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

by Robin Garr » Wed Jan 01, 2014 9:53 pm

Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

Earlier today, Mary pointed out David Tanis’s City Kitchen column in today’s New York Times Food Section, “What the Tipsy Peasant Knew,”
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/dinin ... ref=dining
and we both knew it would be dinner tonight. When I posted about it on my Facebook page, a chorus of quick responses confirmed the impression that there's something seductive going on here.

Tanis's introduction set the tone, and seemed to get everyone's taste buds working:

... it’s hard to find a proper soupe á l’oignon in Paris. But you may find a lackluster onion soup gratinée on every tourist menu, served bubbling away with gooey cheese. On the other hand, a really good homemade version is wonderful, and you don’t have to be hung over to enjoy it. Even when eaten sober, onion soup is an excellent antidote to blustery, cold weather.


Tanis writes that he learned the dish from Chef Jacques Pépin, who focused on its simple peasant origins, making it meat-free, for instance, with “Château [Jacques] Chirac,” ordinary tap water, in place of the customary beef broth.

Amazingly - although perhaps not so much, given Pépin’s skills - the dish turned out deep, rich and “meaty” in spite of its exceptionally simple and fully meat-free cast of characters.

I made it for dinner tonight, following Tanis’s recipe fairly faithfully, or about as faithfully as I can ever do a recipe that grabs my attention. Okay, so I reduced it to one-third of its published proportions to make dinner for two. I did omit the sage, which didn’t feel right, and added a bit of tomato paste and a tiny dash of soy sauce to kick up the umami component, Finally, I found that 20 minutes of simmering was more than ample, no need for the 45-minute simmer called for.

Still, for all practical purposes I stuck with The Times’ recipe, and I can testify that it’s a keeper.

You can click here for The Times’ original,
http://www.nytimes.com/recipes/1015863/ ... oasts.html
or follow my slightly modified version for six below.

Red Onion Soup With Cheese Toasts
By David Tanis
The New York Times
Serves two
Total time: about 1 hour


INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pounds sweet yellow onions, peeled and sliced thin, about 1/8-inch thick
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry red wine (I used a Chianti that I had handy; a Cotes-du-Rhone would also be good)
1 bay lead
Small bunch fresh thyme, tied with string
3 fat garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoons brandy (this Kentuckian substituted Bourbon)
2 slices slightly stale Pepperidge Farm white bread
2 ounces grated Gruyère or Emmentaler

PREPARATION

1. Heat the olive oil in a large black-iron skillet. Put in the sliced onions, seasoned with salt and pepper, then sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are a ruddy dark brown, about 10 minutes.
2. Pour 1/4 cup water into the pan to deglaze, scraping with a wooden spoon to dissolve any brown bits.
3. Turn heat to high and add the red wine, bay leaf, thyme bunch and garlic. Simmer rapidly for 5 minutes, then add 2 3/4 cups water and return to a boil. Turn heat down to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning. (May be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance.)
4. Make the cheese toasts: Lightly toast the bread slices. Then heap each with about 1 ounce of the cheese, top with black pepper, and broil (I used a toaster oven) until the cheese bubbles and browns slightly.
5. Stir the brandy (or Bourbon) into soup, if desired, and simmer a moment or two more. Remove the thyme and the bay leaf. Ladle soup into wide bowls and slide a slice of the cheese-topped toast into each bowl.

We served it with the rest of the Chianti and enjoyed every last drop.
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Jeff Grossman/NYC

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Re: RCP: Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Wed Jan 01, 2014 10:04 pm

I thought onion soup required a long period of cooking in order go get our friend Maillard involved. I'm pretty sure that the Cooks Illustrated version goes on for hours, and that the super-duper-traditional version requires several scrapings of the pan, etc. Or am I mis-remembering?
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Re: RCP: Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

by Robin Garr » Wed Jan 01, 2014 11:42 pm

Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:I thought onion soup required a long period of cooking in order go get our friend Maillard involved. I'm pretty sure that the Cooks Illustrated version goes on for hours, and that the super-duper-traditional version requires several scrapings of the pan, etc. Or am I mis-remembering?

Jeff, I don't know about Cook's ... I used to like it but grew tired of the publisher's style and haven't read it for ages. I can say, though, that M. Maillard was present in strength during the 10-minute process of getting the onions to a deep reddish brown, and that procedure seemed to establish a rich, deep flavor that did not thereafter depart. About 45 minutes all told developed an onion soup that worked for us. Your mileage may vary, but this procedure is simple enough that it's easy to give it a try. Just be attentive during the onion browning stage, as that seems to be the critical element.
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Re: RCP: Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

by Fred Sipe » Thu Jan 02, 2014 10:43 am

Sounds great to me. Just might hit the gullet tonight!
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Re: RCP: Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

by Rahsaan » Thu Jan 02, 2014 11:33 am

Nice work. I remember when I first started going to French restaurants in college I used to order this because it sounded vegetarian. Until I realized what was in the stock and then could no longer stomach the taste. Since then it seems to have fallen out of fashion - at least in the places I go - but this sounds like a very good idea.
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Re: RCP: Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

by Jenise » Thu Jan 02, 2014 8:09 pm

That looks great, Robin, thanks for posting. Never considered a beefless onion soup but look forward to trying it.

Btw, completely agreed on Cooks Illustrated. A friend recently served an onion soup that I suspect came from that publication, as I know her to subscribe to no other, and it was an absurd concoction of rendering down three batches of onions in the oven, one after another, which took all day and though good, was not more deeply refined than what I produce in 1/3 the time. On the stovetop.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: RCP: Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

by Karen/NoCA » Thu Jan 02, 2014 9:33 pm

Sounds great Robin, thanks. I have the start of French Onion Soup by Julia Child cooking away on my stove. 5 lb. of beef bones and veggies browned in the oven first and now are cooking in water along with bones from our prime rib roast at christmas, which I froze. It is strained later, and put into the fridge for the fat to congeal and finished tomorrow. I am thinking this may not be as good as my standard family onion soup which uses store bought beef broth and is excellent...we'll see. Sometimes, these long, and tedious recipes are just all work and not of any benefit. I used to buy beef bones, that had meat on them. Could not find any last week that were not stripped of every last bit of meat. My stock is not cooking up to the flavor I am used too.

About CI magazine...drives me nuts too, I swear he writes the same article each time, just substituting ingredient words where necessary.
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Re: RCP: Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Thu Jan 02, 2014 11:02 pm

Jenise wrote:Btw, completely agreed on Cooks Illustrated. A friend recently served an onion soup that I suspect came from that publication, as I know her to subscribe to no other, and it was an absurd concoction of rendering down three batches of onions in the oven, one after another, which took all day and though good, was not more deeply refined than what I produce in 1/3 the time. On the stovetop.

Yup, that sounds like it. Glad to hear it doesn't really work.

I don't subscribe but I came across a trove of back-issues and glanced through them. I found one good article on making gravy, and perhaps one more on Pears Anna (or something like that). I don't mind the writing style but there is definitely a lack of vision... every article is an absolute grind to ensure that only the most basic things are done right.
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Re: RCP: Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

by Robin Garr » Fri Jan 03, 2014 12:19 am

Jenise wrote:... took all day and though good, was not more deeply refined than what I produce in 1/3 the time. On the stovetop.

Yeah, I was pretty amazed (and pleased) at the depth of color and flavor I got within 15 to 20 minutes of careful browning in an iron skillet on the stovetop. And that was the only element of the recipe that was even marginally challenging.

French peasants know best, I guess! :lol:

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