Friday, January 30, 2009

French onion soup

There's nothing better in those cold winter days than warming up to a hot bowl of soup. French onion soup is an especially good and comforting one and really a cinch to make. It can literally be whipped up in under 30mn.

All you need is 2 to 3 medium onions, some butter, water, a good Swiss Emmentaler or French Gruyere and a nice piece of stale bread. Now I do insist on the fact that the bread has to be a good 3 to 4 days old in order to absorb a maximum of liquid. If using old bread doesn't sound too appealing, you can always substitute fresh bread, but the result won't be comparable. Fresh bread has a higher water content and therefore cannot absorb moisture in the same proportion as a more dehydrated bread would.

Here is my twist on it. The butter is first melted in a cast iron pot on high heat. The onions are peeled, cut in half and sliced. Then they're tossed in the pot along with a good pinch of kosher salt to help them break down. They have to become sweet and tender and caramelize all around. The caramelization is important as it is what will yield its typical brown color to the soup. You might want to play around with the heat a little in order to get that nice caramelization without burning the onions.

When the onions are ready 3 to 4 cups of water are added along with a good tablespoon of kosher salt. The heat is turned on high to bring it to a boil. It is then simmered over low heat for about 20mn and seasoning is adjusted. I personnally like this soup with a lot of freshly ground black pepper.

When ready to serve first arrange several pieces of bread in a bowl, then laddle the hot soup over and sprinkle all over with cheese. Wait 5 mn until the cheese has melted and forms a kind of "crust" on top.

If you're after that beautiful golden brown top, the soup needs to go under a hot broiler for about 5mn. Ideally, the soup should be served in stoneware bowls for that special rustic look, but any kind of ovenproof dish would do the trick.

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