Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Onion Soup Gratinée

These days the temperature in New York has been hovering around 20 degrees, with the wind chill making it feel more like single digits. Mornings have been rough to say the least, and the fireplace has certainly been kept busy. As a bustling holiday season was coming to a close, I decided to make a batch of French Onion Soup — or, as my father kept insisting, Onion Soup Gratinée.

Researching recipe upon recipe I quickly realized that, while they all matched in basic ingredients, each recipe was indeed very different from the next. Cooking onions, beef broth, Gruyère cheese and a french baguette aside, suggestions varied from white wine, red wine, sherry and vermouth to mushrooms, parsley and potato flour. Knowing my own cooking style and personal tastes, I printed out several variations and created my own recipe along the way.

Onion Soup Gratinée certainly is one of my favorite comfort foods, but I've almost always found it to be a bit too salty when ordered out. Creating this recipe gave me an opportunity to tailor its delicate flavor to my liking; likewise, you can play around with different spices and ingredients to personalize it however you like. Be aware, however, that the caramelization process is not a quick process by any means. In order to truly get that creamy onion flavor, you need to cook the onions extremely slowly on very low heat.

Onion Soup Gratinée

Makes 4 servings

2 tbsp butter

3-4 large yellow onions

Kosher salt

4 ounces dry sherry

1 bay leaf

1 quart beef stock, low-sodium

1 can (14-oz.) chicken stock, low-sodium

1/2 cube chicken bouillon

8 slices fresh French baguette

1/2 pound sliced Gruyère cheese (at least 12 slices)

4 oven-proof crocks or large ramekins

Begin by preparing the onions. Cut off both ends and then slice each onion in half lengthwise, from top to bottom. Once you have your halves, begin from one of the flattened ends and cut into thin slices. Set aside.

Go into the bathroom and dry out your eyes with a hair dryer. Stuff a couple tissues up your nose, pop a piece of gum into your mouth, put on a pair of safety goggles, and come back into the kitchen. It's ok — no one's home. If the mailman comes by, matter-of-factly explain that you're fumigating the house for dog-sized rats and that he should keep his distance. Trust me, he'll listen.

In a soup pot, coat the bottom with olive oil and set on medium-low heat. Add onions, sprinkle generously with salt, and toss to coat evenly. Add butter, toss to coat once more, cover and allow onions to cook, undisturbed, for approximately 20-25 minutes. This process will allow the onions to "sweat" and prepare them for the caramelization process.

Once the onions have sweated and released a good amount of liquid, add the sherry and cook on low heat, uncovered, for approximately 45 minutes. Check up on them every so often and you'll notice the unique golden color they begin to acquire while they simmer in their butter-and-sherry bath. Low and slow is the secret.

Now that the onions have acquired a creamy texture, add both broths, the chicken bouillon, and the bay leaf and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for an additional 30 minutes, tasting every so often to adjust seasonings.

In the meanwhile, drizzle some olive oil in a separate pan over medium heat. Place the baguette slices in the pan and brown on both sides, sprinkling with kosher salt to taste and adding extra olive oil if needed.

Once the soup is done simmering, ladle 3/4 of the way into individual oven-proof crocks. Place two slices of toasted baguette followed by three or four slices of cheese. Place crocks in the oven and, setting to broil, allow the surface to become bubbly and slightly brown.

Remove and set aside to cool slightly before serving.

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