Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'd be crazy not to follow/Follow where you lead - French Onion Soup

Has it really been since the summer of 2009 since I've posted a blog entry? I think one could probably draw a direct line from the advent of my discovery of Facebook to that neglect. Charmed and drawn by the lure of writing merely a sentence and getting instant feedback, the posting of a blog entry and putting it out into the vast nothingness of the interest became less interesting. In the meantime, I've posted on Facebook myriad photos of the food I cook for dinner with nary an explanation of the process. All it took was one person to ask for more to send me back over here. What can I say? We're all slaves to attention and validation, right?

Warning: I'm what I call an intuitive cook. Which basically means I don't really follow recipes, instead relying on experience and whatever knowledge I've managed to pick up along the way. Inspired by another Facebook friend, I decided to make French onion soup the other day. And like her, I wanted to start completely from scratch, which meant I needed to make my own beef stock. I may have made it some time in the past, but in recent years, I've taken the easy route and used store bought. Perhaps no more because the process was really easy; it just required some time.

The process: You will need raw beef bones (Depending on where you live, these might be somewhat hard to find; I got mine at the Gravois Plaza Shop 'n' Save. If the store has a butcher counter, you could probably ask for them. They are cheap.), some carrots, some celery, salt, and pepper. Normally you would add an onion or two to this list too, but I skipped that since I was making onion soup. I thought it would just be redundant. Put the bones and vegetables into a roasting dish or pan and put into a hot (375F or 400F) oven and let roast for about 30-45 minutes. Watch it to make sure things don't burn, but you do want some nice browning and caramelization. Depending on the kinds of bones you have, you may end up with a lot of fat in your pan. Drain the fat off, being careful to retain all the brown bits in the pan. Transfer the roasted bones and vegetables to a large pot and add water. The amount of water depends on the number of bones, etc.  I had about three pounds of bones and made a full pot of stock. The more bones you have, the more stock you can get out of them. In the roasting pan, add some hot tap water and stir, scraping up the browned bits that are stuck to the pan. Dump that liquid into the pot too. Now add pepper and salt to the pot and any herbs you might like if desired. I didn't have any fresh parsley, but I would have added a bundle if it was in the house. Bring to a boil and let simmer for a couple of hours. Check the level of liquid as it goes along; you might need to add more.

In the meantime, slice up about a pound of onions. I used yellow ones. Add to a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil that's been heating in a pan. I have found that cast iron or other dark surfaces are best for caramelizing onions, so avoid stainless steel (it'll take forever!) if you can. Once the onions get going, turn the heat down as you don't want them to brown instead of caramelize. I also cheat a bit and add a little spoonful of brown sugar to send the onions on their way. You have to keep an eye on the onions and the time it takes can vary wildly. I don't know why!

After a couple hours, your stock should be nice and brown and tasty. You need to remove the bones and vegetables - I just pulled everything out and skimmed the veg out with slotted spoon. You could certainly pour it through a strainer if that's easier for you. Just be careful!

Once you have your stock back in the pot and the onions are properly caramelized, add the onions to the stock. At this point, I also added the leaves from about four stalks of fresh thyme and a couple of shakes of Worcestershire sauce. I also deglazed the onion pan with a generous glug of vermouth and added it to the soup pot. You could also use white or red wine, or even a cognac. I let the pot simmer for about another two hours, adding salt and pepper to taste.

When it was time to serve, I ladled the soup into bowls, topped with a couple thin slices of baguette and then a handful of shredded Swiss cheese (Gruyere is traditional, but Swiss works fine and is cheaper). Also traditionally the soup bowls would go under a broiler to melt the cheese. I was too lazy for that, so I used my little butane torch and that worked well enough.

After all that, you get this:


Greg said...

Cat, I had no idea of your culinary prowess! I have followed your wonderful pics on FB and was consoled by the fact there was another shameless exhibitionist foodie out there (I stopped "sharing" my food exploits a while ago due to the hate mail and threats from various fast food goons:-))

Now, if I can resist the urge to "one-up" you, I will continue to enjoy your tasty blog! Thanks.

Cat Pick said...

I really just want to encourage other people to cook! It's fun!

Anonymous said...

What do you do with the veggies you skimmed from the broth? Toss 'em? Can you make something else with them?

Cat Pick said...

Honestly, they're probably not good for much. At that point they've been roasted and then boiled so the flavor has pretty much been cooked out of them. I actually gave them to my dog, who was hoping for the bones, but settled for anything that had been in beef stock. :)