I am a scientist who loves to cook because there are many similarities between working in a lab and cooking in a kitchen. I love to share my cooking experience with you and to inspire others to cook.

Monday, June 18, 2012

French Onion Soup

Every dish and every food that I cook has a story. There is a journey where you can trace the beginning, the failure, and the success. French onion soup has its own story too in my life.

I made this dish back in college. A group of us guys came together and created a meal for a few girls on Valentine's day. We guys are the chefs, the bus boys, and the servers. None of us was sophisticated enough to be a sommelier or a maitre'd.

French onion soup was on the menu and I was in charged of it. That's the beginning. Fast forward, I made French Onion soup again two weeks ago, which turned into a disaster. That's the failure. I learned a few lessons along the road and redeemed myself with the 3rd try. That's the success story.

So what have I learned from the failure? Three things:
1) Homemade beef stock is a must. No shortcut, no store-bought beef stock. Plain and simple. If you want a good french onion soup, make the beef stock from scratch.

2) Purist might disagree with me but forget about sautéing the onion until it turns brown. First, it will take you at least 40 minutes of constant attention. Second, chances of burnt onion is high. Instead - roast onion!! Read on.

3) Cheese, lots of it if you want the nice melty cheese on the soup.

Ingredients  (serves 4-5)

Soup (Adapted and modified based on Julia Child's recipe)

1) 2 lbs of beef bones. They sell it really cheap in the grocery store.
2) 4 medium size onions. Roughly sliced/chopped.
3) Chunks of beef (those that are used for stewing). Optional.
4) Small piece of dried bay leave
5) Pinch of ground sage
6) Small chunk of butter (Optional)
7) Worcestershire sauce
8) Salt and Pepper for tasting

"Garnish" (There must be another word for this)
1) Cheese (at least 1 lb?). You can slice it or cut it into cubes. There is no need to grate it. I bought Swiss, some recipes suggested Gruyere (someone please teach me how to pronounce this)
2) White bread. Purist please don't knock me for not using a baguette.

1) To start, roast the bones and the onions at 450F for 30 minutes. I described this technique in my Oxtail soup recipe. http://foodmolecule.blogspot.com/2012/03/oxtail-soup.html
2) Transfer the roasted bones and onion into a soup pot and add just enough water to cover the bones.
3) Add the bay leave and ground sage into the pot
4) Cook the soup in medium heat for 2 hours (estimate). I used a pressure cooker which took me 40 minutes.
5) Seasoned the soup with salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce, and butter (optional).
6) Transfer the soup into a small serving bowl.
7) Put a piece of bread, which is cut to the same size as the bowl, on top of the soup.
8) Put the sliced/cut cheese over the bread.
9) Melt the cheese in an oven OR microwave. (read until the end).

The difference between this soup and the soup that was made using store-bought beef stock was day vs. night, mud puddle vs. the great ocean, dirt mound vs. Himalaya, ( I ran out of superlatives). First of all, this soup tasted FRESH and CLEAN. Second, the fragrant of onion was TRANSPARENT. My mind was clear and unclouded from the first to the last spoon. I tasted beef and I tasted onion. SIMPLE.

Now here comes the disaster part of this story. Professional cooks melt the cheese under a broiler to get this effect:

                            (From http://ruhlman.com/2011/10/french-onion-soup-recipe/)

They never tell you how long to do this so I waited and waited for the cheese to turn brown, then I found this in my oven:

That's a shattered (actually it exploded before my eyes) pyrex dish that I laid the ramekins on. In vehicular term - it is "totaled".

Next time, I will use a modern technology called a microwave. Yeah, I won't get the browned cheese, but I will not have "totaled" dish either.

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