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French onion soup

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Jenise

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French onion soup

by Jenise » Thu May 11, 2006 3:22 pm

Yesterday's weather started out sunny then turned gray, which seemed to suggest a shoulder season dinner that provided both summer light and winter comfort. And so I made a romaine lettuce salad, fresh yeasty corn rolls, and crocks of French Onion Soup capped with the requisite crouton and melted cheese (a raw milk cheddar I happened to have on hand in place of the requisite gruyere which I didn't), all of which I served with a 98 Oliver Leflaive Meursault.

I normally soften the onions for about 45 minutes or an hour, then add broth and simmer another hour. But having read through Thomas Keller's Bouchon a couple weeks ago, yesterday I guiltily forced myself to go the whole nine yards and carmelize several quarts of thinly sliced onions into a little brown pile.

That takes four hours.

The result in the bowl is sweet, silken and luxurious. The result in the rest of the house is an pervasively intense and acrid onion smell that reminds me of every hole in the wall vegetarian restaurant I've ever been in. Once upon a time my favorite indie book store in Anchorage, Alaska, opened a little vegan cafe, and this was the smell of it. Not the good smell of "saute until transluscent", but the much more sinister smell of onions boiled to death. Emphasis on the 'dead' part: ever have an onion go soft and rancid in your pantry? This smell's pretty close to that. Anyway I finally quit going to that bookstore, or at least when I did go I didn't loiter as booklovers love to do in bookstores, simply because I found the rancid onion odor that objecitonable.

So this morning though it is just 51 degrees outside and rain threatens, I have all the sliders open and am waddling in three layers of clothes, the memory of how delicious the soup was completely overshadowed by the onion stench that smells like it will take months to leave.

Ugh. I shall never, ever make onion soup this way again.
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: French onion soup

by Christina Georgina » Thu May 11, 2006 3:44 pm

Seems a shame to forego the taste because of the smell, although, your description makes it nosable [?] I wonder if not possible to attenuate the odors some way while cooking. I am reminded of some Indian friends who cook and entertain frequently. The home is so totally without cooking odors it's unnerving because the smells anticipatory effect is part of the pleasure of a dining experience. I've never had the cheek to ask them why !
Mamma Mia !
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Re: French onion soup

by Jenise » Thu May 11, 2006 4:14 pm

How unusual what you describe is in my experience. Rather, the homes of Indian friends who frequently cook at home are usually exotically enhanced by all the spices used in their curries. We were joking with one such former Alaskan friend just recently about that, betting that ten years after they left that rented condo that the curry smell one used to be able to pick up 12 feet from the front door was still there.
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Re: French onion soup

by Sue Courtney » Thu May 11, 2006 5:44 pm

Four hours!!! Must try it sometime. I also find that a successful French Onion Soup must have a good stock, so I usually make my own.
Jenise, what do you use for your 'broth' (which I guess is the same as what I call 'stock)?

Sue
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Re: French onion soup

by Christina Georgina » Thu May 11, 2006 5:59 pm

My conclusion was they either know a powerful antidote OR a very good caterer.
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Re: French onion soup

by Bob Ross » Thu May 11, 2006 7:22 pm

Jenise, how did you carmalize so many onions? I would carmalize out on our deck on our Viking if it can be done without too much hovering.

Regards, Bob
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Re: French onion soup

by Jenise » Thu May 11, 2006 7:46 pm

Bob, I just cooked them down/down/down. Used about 9 large onions (Texas Sweet) which I started them in about two tablespoons of EVOO in a Dutch oven sized pan. The onions contain enough liquid to bubble away on low heat in their own juices, uncovered, with just the occasional stirring. They didn't really require any constant attention until they started to darken, which was pretty close to the fourth hour. From there I stayed on top of them until they reached a deep golden brown, which was only another 10-15 minutes.
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Re: French onion soup

by Jenise » Thu May 11, 2006 7:52 pm

Sue, I used a rich mixed meat broth from a recent Bollito Misto I had in the freezer plus some fond from a recent prime rib roast, then augmented both with a can of good beef broth which I'm not too proud to use when I don't have enough homemade on hand.
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Re: French onion soup

by Bob Ross » Thu May 11, 2006 7:53 pm

OK, that works for me without aromatizing the house. Many thanks. Bob
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Re: French onion soup

by bgbarcus » Thu May 11, 2006 10:23 pm

Jenise wrote:Bob, I just cooked them down/down/down. Used about 9 large onions (Texas Sweet) which I started them in about two tablespoons of EVOO in a Dutch oven sized pan. The onions contain enough liquid to bubble away on low heat in their own juices, uncovered, with just the occasional stirring.


I always fully caramelize the onions, which is why I don't make the soup very often (too much time involved) but I can't recall ever having that lingering odor you described.. There are a couple of differences, I use butter instead of EVOO and let the onions start with the lid on until they are sweating and then stew them in their own juices as they begin to reduce. The biggest difference might be that I avoid sweet onions. They burn too easily and get an off flavor (to me) after they've been fully caramelized. I prefer plain yellow onions and for large batches I add one red and one white. That combo seems to retain a lot more onion flavor in the soup.

With all that said, the stock still seems to be the most important part of the soup. Really good stock can lift up so-so onions but nothing makes up for inadequate stock.
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Re: French onion soup

by ChefCarey » Thu May 11, 2006 11:06 pm

Jenise wrote:Yesterday's weather started out sunny then turned gray, which seemed to suggest a shoulder season dinner that provided both summer light and winter comfort. And so I made a romaine lettuce salad, fresh yeasty corn rolls, and crocks of French Onion Soup capped with the requisite crouton and melted cheese (a raw milk cheddar I happened to have on hand in place of the requisite gruyere which I didn't), all of which I served with a 98 Oliver Leflaive Meursault.

I normally soften the onions for about 45 minutes or an hour, then add broth and simmer another hour. But having read through Thomas Keller's Bouchon a couple weeks ago, yesterday I guiltily forced myself to go the whole nine yards and carmelize several quarts of thinly sliced onions into a little brown pile.

That takes four hours.

The result in the bowl is sweet, silken and luxurious. The result in the rest of the house is an pervasively intense and acrid onion smell that reminds me of every hole in the wall vegetarian restaurant I've ever been in. Once upon a time my favorite indie book store in Anchorage, Alaska, opened a little vegan cafe, and this was the smell of it. Not the good smell of "saute until transluscent", but the much more sinister smell of onions boiled to death. Emphasis on the 'dead' part: ever have an onion go soft and rancid in your pantry? This smell's pretty close to that. Anyway I finally quit going to that bookstore, or at least when I did go I didn't loiter as booklovers love to do in bookstores, simply because I found the rancid onion odor that objecitonable.

So this morning though it is just 51 degrees outside and rain threatens, I have all the sliders open and am waddling in three layers of clothes, the memory of how delicious the soup was completely overshadowed by the onion stench that smells like it will take months to leave.

Ugh. I shall never, ever make onion soup this way again.


As I am wont to point out to my students all the time, there are *many* "French onion" soups - we make four. Americans seem to fixate on *the one.*

Also, there is a *big* difference between "stock" and "broth" - stock is what you want.

I hardly know where to start in threads like this. So, I usually just stay out of them.
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Re: French onion soup

by Howie Hart » Fri May 12, 2006 2:02 am

I use the recipe from Elma Lach's French Cook Book. My interpretaion of her recipe is is 3/4 of the onions (yellow cooking) are sliced thin and put over low heat in a large covered pot with butter to cook and soften. The other 1/4 of the onions are sliced thicker (1/2 inch?) put in a skillet over high heat with butter. When they start to carmelize, 1 part sugar and 2 part flour are added and they are stirred constantly (the phrase I like to use is that "you dare them to burn"). Add some stock to stop carmelization, then add them to the other pot with the rest of the stock. Serve over dried French bread, top with Swiss Cheese and Parmesan and broil until the cheese is just starting to brown. I prefer chicken stock and the color comes from the carmelization.
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Re: French onion soup

by bgbarcus » Fri May 12, 2006 10:13 am

ChefCarey wrote:As I am wont to point out to my students all the time, there are *many* "French onion" soups - we make four. Americans seem to fixate on *the one.*

Also, there is a *big* difference between "stock" and "broth" - stock is what you want.

I hardly know where to start in threads like this. So, I usually just stay out of them.


How about starting with the types. As far as I can recall I only know of the one style and now you've made me curious.

As to the stock vs. broth, I am guilty as most people of sloppily interchanging the terms. For myself I always make stock.
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Re: French onion soup

by Jenise » Fri May 12, 2006 12:55 pm

Brian--
"Really good stock can lift up so-so onions but nothing makes up for inadequate stock."
Amen!

Chef Carey--
As I am wont to point out to my students all the time, there are *many* "French onion" soups - we make four. Americans seem to fixate on *the one.*


Do tell! Actually, last week when I read Keller's recipe, I went to Larousse to check for authenticity/differences. There I only found two recipes, one that used just half a pound of onions for a couple quarts of white consomme (which amused me, since the black and white picture showed a soup as dark as blood), and another that poured that soup over many layers of toasted bread, each sprinkled with cheese (type unnamed) which obviously gets closer to what most Americans know as French onion soup. So what are the four?

Also, there is a *big* difference between "stock" and "broth" - stock is what you want.


I know this, however I tend to err and use the words interchangeably.
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: French onion soup

by Stuart Yaniger » Fri May 12, 2006 10:36 pm

Jenise, I also wonder about your onions. I haven't done a 4 hour carmelization, but I do let them go at least an hour, hour and a half, until they are at a point where they are DEEP brown and have collapsed to nearly nothing. I tend to also use just normal yellow onions- they get quite sweet enough. And I also do the presweat covered.

Hey, Chef, are you including soubise as one of the Four?
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Re: French onion soup

by Jenise » Sat May 13, 2006 12:58 pm

Stuart,

I think you're onto something--these were absolutely the wettest onions I've ever cooked (they were new crop), and after about an hour they'd exuded enough juice to almost cover the onions. Btw, I used them because they were on sale for .39/lb if you bought ten pounds. Regular white or yellow would have been twice that. So I bought ten pounds, and having those on hand when I stumbled over Keller's recipe is how Keller's method got in the queue--his recipe says it will take four hours and I had a bit of trouble believing that. And dang if they didn't take all of that plus a little more. At four hours the juice was just about cooked off, and only then did they start coloring. I can well appreciate that with drier onions it would have taken less time.
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Re: French onion soup

by ChefCarey » Mon May 15, 2006 11:46 am

Do tell! Actually, last week when I read Keller's recipe, I went to Larousse to check for authenticity/differences. There I only found two recipes, one that used just half a pound of onions for a couple quarts of white consomme (which amused me, since the black and white picture showed a soup as dark as blood), and another that poured that soup over many layers of toasted bread, each sprinkled with cheese (type unnamed) which obviously gets closer to what most Americans know as French onion soup. So what are the four?

Also, there is a *big* difference between "stock" and "broth" - stock is what you want.


I know this, however I tend to err and use the words interchangeably.

Well, the four are these: soubise, cream of onion, onion, potato and leek, and what is considered the classic - Soupe a l'oignon gratinee.
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Re: French onion soup

by Jenise » Mon May 15, 2006 1:26 pm

Chef:

Okay, thanks for the explanation. Cream of onion is a valid form of onion soup, but I tend to put all creamed soups in a category by themselves and it wouldn't occur to me to mention it in the same breath as the gratinee. Nor would I think of potato and leek soup as a form of onion soup vs. a potato soup. Interesting that you do.

Jenise
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Re: French onion soup

by ChefCarey » Mon May 15, 2006 4:07 pm

Jenise wrote:Chef:

Okay, thanks for the explanation. Cream of onion is a valid form of onion soup, but I tend to put all creamed soups in a category by themselves and it wouldn't occur to me to mention it in the same breath as the gratinee. Nor would I think of potato and leek soup as a form of onion soup vs. a potato soup. Interesting that you do.

Jenise


Generally we name the soup after the principal ingredient. And not all creamed soups are the same. :)
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Re: French onion soup

by Jenise » Tue May 16, 2006 1:29 pm

And not all creamed soups are the same.


No, REALLY? :shock:

No, of course they're not. But it's a personal thing--I have moods that very specifically specify a creamed soup (almost no matter what's in it) vs. brothy soups, so categorically speaking everything is a subset of those two to me.
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Re: French onion soup

by bgbarcus » Thu May 18, 2006 9:36 pm

Jenise wrote:
And not all creamed soups are the same.

I have moods that very specifically specify a creamed soup (almost no matter what's in it) vs. brothy soups, so categorically speaking everything is a subset of those two to me.


I understand those moods very well. They often coincide with rainy vs. sunny weather.
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Re: French onion soup

by Jenise » Fri May 19, 2006 1:27 pm

Brian, exactly. Or what meal of the day it is--I love a cup of soup for breakfast.
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