Vive la france

It's Independence Day, and normally I'm not in a great mood about the French.  But, you know, they did help us during our War of Independence, and by golly the little buggers can cook.

We have a neighborhood party to attend this evening, complete with (I hope) excessively dangerous fireworks.  After considering several things to bring, I opted for lazy security in the form of a big loaf of French bread, now that I have the technique down.  Today's batch is particularly easy, because the NPH, with a higher tolerance for these things, dragged down the old Sunbeam mixer and figured out what was wrong with it that made us put it away on a top shelf years ago.  Now it works like a charm and makes the dough-kneading a snap.  Two big loaves are rising at this moment.

The extra loaf of bread inspired me to get ready to make some onion soup.  My indispensable new Michael Ruhlman cookbook, "Twenty," surprised me with the claim that my onion soup would be better made with water than with chicken stock.  I tried it some a few weeks ago:  he was right.  It eats up some time, but otherwise couldn't be easier.  Starting early in the day, you slice up about eight onions of any kind, pour them into a large heavy pot with a tablespoon or so of butter and some salt, sweat them for a few minutes with the lid on, then cook them down slowly for several hours at whatever temperature you're willing to monitor them at:  the slower, the less often you have to check.  They'll be in there for quite a while before they lose enough water to need much attention.  Towards the end, it's best to keep a sharp eye on them.

When the onions get dark, dark, dark brown after three to five hours, and have shrunk down to quite a small volume, you have not only the makings for instant onion soup but a confection with unlimited uses.  The dark, caramelized flavor is unbelievable, especially if you get a truly dark brown, crunchy bit.  Put them on anything, or refrigerate or freeze them at this point, or go ahead and make soup.

All the soup requires is pouring six cups of water onto the onions, heating it up, and adjusting it to taste with any or all of the following:  salt, pepper, Vietnamese fish sauce, anchovy paste, vinegar, sherry, or red wine.  Then, of course, top it with slices of bread covered with toasted Swiss and/or Gruyère cheese.  Traditionally, you put the bread and cheese on top of individual oven-proof bowls and melt them that way, but I don't have any such bowls at the moment, so I toast the bread-and-cheese on a cookie sheet, then plop one onto each serving of soup.  I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a set of bowls in local antique shops, though, so I can achieve this effect:

It's peasant food, and great stuff.  Not counting the cheese, the whole batch (including the whole loaf of bread) costs about $6 in ingredients.


Grim said...

When I went to Boston in 1996, the first place I stopped in had a tremendous French Onion soup. It was an Irish pub, but the soup was fantastic. I went back for at least one meal a day there the whole time I was in town.

Eric Blair said...

What people miss is that the French Monarchy was a friend of the American Republic.

The French Republic(s), not so much.

Soup recipe sounds good though.

Ymar Sakar said...

I don't like loud gunpowder and fireworks. Makes it more difficult to hear people sneaking up in the dark.

E Hines said...

Some of the best Französisch Zwiebelsuppe I've ever had was when I was stationed at Prüm in western FRG near where Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg come together. There's a little gasthaus near the Zoll between Germany and Lux, and it used, it turns out, exactly the recipe you've described.

Want a job up Plano way?

Eric Hines