Good ingredients done right make things wonderful

9 Jan

Sweet Yellow onions and my Opinel

Good ingredients done right are what make things wonderful.  Onion Soup is an example of a dish that explodes with flavor when you take the time to do it right.

The word restaurant comes from the French restaurer, or to restore, and first appeared in the 16th century meaning “a food which restores,” and referred specifically to a rich, highly flavored soup.   At that time onions were easy to grow and cheap, thus onion soup was sold by street vendors primarily to poor working class members of Parisen society.

Today, the sweetness of caramelized onions, the deep rich flavor of beef broth and the texture of  french bread croutons topped with warm cheese are what make this traditional soup a favorite everywhere.  Chef Thomas Keller comments on soup a l’onion in his book Bouchon,  by saying “It’s soup and sandwich at once.  And if you have it on a cold winter day, few things are more soul satisfying.”

Onions slowly caramelizing

Simple is best, and because there are few ingredients in an onion soup, it is important to take your time when making it.   Good caramelized onions can only be done low and slow.   It is important when you do this to make sure you are using uniformed slices that are not too large or too thin.   I used a mandoline to slice my onions, and cooked them for about two and a half hours.   Doing so allows for the natural sugars to caramelize rather than just simply brown.

A tea bag used for a sachet in the beef stock

I used pre made beef stock, but again, the process of reducing it slowly brings out the depth and flavor found deep with the ingredients.   I also added a tea bag filled with black and pink peppercorns, bay leaves as well as some fresh thyme to add flavor to the broth.   I didn’t have any cheesecloth to make a sachet, but found that the tea bag tied with a bit of kitchen twine worked great.

French bread, toasted and ready to top the soup

I had a fresh baguette that I sliced, coated with olive oil and toasted in the broiler.   Because of the size of the bowl I was going to use, I figured two slices per bowl, and in the end it worked out perfectly.

Emmental sliced thin as well as grated

You can use any kind of cheese that will melt well on top of your bowl, and I’ve had it with everything from Comte to mozzarella, but I had picked up some Emmentaler, a traditional Swiss cheese.  The Emmental I got from Formaggio’s was from an small artisan cheese shop in Monticello, Wisconsin, Edelweiss Creamery, that has been at the same location since 1873.

Soup a l'Oignon with toasted Croutons in place

I reduced my stock at the same time I was caramelizing my onions, and after two and a half hours, I added the stock to the onion pot, and continued to reduce the soup, intensifying the flavors.   I then placed my slices of Emmentaler cheese on top of the croutons, and sprinkled some grated emmentaler around the edges, and quickly put the bowls under the broiler.

Ready for the broiler

While the bowls were in the broiler, I prepared a serving plate to place the bowls on, because coming out of the broiler they would be too hot to touch.  One of the many things I’ve learned while behind the line in kitchens like Menton is that small damp clothes are often included under bowls so they don’t slide around on a serving plate.  In this case, it being critical that the bowls say in place, I took a paper towel, wet it and then cut it into small squares to include on the plate.  A simple and sure way to keep your main dish right were you want it.

A kitchen secret to keeping your bowl in place on a serving plate

I watched the bowls closely, and in short order they were ready to come out of the broiler and set for presentation.  The soup was wonderfully rich and warming.  The sweetness of the caramelized onions and gooey cheese made for a wonderful mouthful with every bit, and the slight crunch of the croutons added just enough texture to the soup.

Remember, Food is Love!

I hope you enjoyed this and will check back again soon.   Please leave your thoughts or comments here, and as always … Remember, Food is Love!




7 Responses to “Good ingredients done right make things wonderful”

  1. athoughtforfood January 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Food is definitely love… and Thomas Keller obviously knows that as well. Each of his dishes involves such dedication to the ingredients that it’s clear that he respects everything that he uses.

    Great post!

    • Justin Ide January 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

      Thanks Brian for the comment and the RT!

  2. Tania deLuzuriaga January 10, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Man, i have been under the weather and onion soup has been my savior. Reading this is making me crave another bowl!

  3. Ben Wilenkin January 10, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    You’re blog is awesome (and I love French Onion Soup)! The downside, for you, is that now you are going to have to cook for me and Heidi more. 🙂

    • Ben Wilenkin January 10, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      Damn spell check…”Your (not you’re)”

    • Justin Ide January 10, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

      No “downside” as far as I can tell …


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