January 13, 2013

French Onion Soup & Nutmeg, Paprika, and Black Pepper Popovers

I just made this soup off the cuff. I looked at the recipe I had from culinary school, realized I had forgotten how many grams of flour went into a cup, and decided to wing it. It takes about two hours total, and requires very little prep. The sardine/mackerel and mejillones en escabeche antipasti were antipasti only, and were not involved in the recipe, though they are highly recommended.

So, this is how it goes:

3 large or 5 medium yellow onions (if you're in the South and can find Vidalias, go for it!), fileted
1/4 stick of unsalted butter
1/8 cup of fragrant olive oil
1/4 cup of vegetable or sunflower oil (something that can handle high heat)
Better than Bouillon beef broth concentrate, or bouillon cubes (or three cartons of pre-made)
10 cups water
Ten sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 cup flour
1/2 lb. of gruyère, shredded coarsely
3/4 cup red wine (Bordeaux or Burgundy)
2 tbsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves of garlic
French bread

Go ahead and make the garlic bread ahead of time. Slice it into rounds and throw it in the oven with a sprinkle of coarse salt and some minced garlic. Toast it until it can't be toasted anymore. You want the bread to start out as dry as a crouton so that it will properly absorb the soup. I bought some pre-made garlic bread toasted rounds. They were delicious. If I hadn't seen them at the store, I would have just made them myself on a cookie sheet.

Note about slicing onions: Please do not slice the onions in goofy half-circles. They should be fileted. Chop the onion down the middle; do not slice it in half, think Prime Meridian, not Equator. Then, place each half with the freshly cut side facing down on the cutting board, bottom of the onion pointing toward you. You will then start at the right side (if you're right-handed) of the onion and make 45 degree slices, cutting the onion thinly (but not too thin, they should still have rigidity). You will eventually have the knife at a 90 degree angle with the cutting board, by the time you've cut half of the half. If this doesn't make sense, call me.

This can be done with only butter, but I guarantee that it will make your life easier to mix some vegetable oil (to maintain the heat) and olive oil (flavor--forgive me for putting it in French fare) in along with the butter.
I personally believe that this is one of those dishes that should be done in a deep, commercial-size, stainless pot, but it could be done in an enameled cast-iron type thing, too (cheaters).

Start off with the oil, splash of olive oil, and about 2 tbsp. of butter. Get it hot! I repeat, do NOT put the onions in unless the oil is hot as hell (but not smoking, of course). The flame should be on medium. Let these babies do their thing. Throw in about a tablespoon of kosher salt. Do not forget the salt. Then grind a healthy dose of black pepper into the pot.

You do not want the onions to crisp up or to acquire browned edges or anything of the like. You will therefore stir them every few minutes. You have a lot of onions in here piled on top of each other and you will want them to cook evenly, and definitely not to get stuck on the bottom. If they start sticking (which I doubt, because they will also be releasing some delicious juices) just throw some butter in. Voila!

The onions will need about 40 minutes. You want them to start turning golden-brown. You do not want this to be a result of too much heat, but rather: a slow, delicate, caramelization process. Merriam-Webster says "caramelization" is not a word. You be the judge.

 You will know when the onions are ready because the color will be tantalizing (sorry I didn't take pictures). At this point, you will throw in 2 tbsp or so of butter, and add the flour a spoonful at a time. Stir it up. Let it go for a few minutes.

Then, deglaze with maybe 3/4 cup of red or white wine. I tossed some of the Bordeaux Supérier in with it. I'm a firm believer in using decent wines to cook with. Wine post to follow.

After the wine has evaporated, add the 10 cups of beef broth. I love the Better than Bouillon brand, personally. It's more flavorful and less salty than the powder, and less expensive than buying the broth in the carton. Besides, your soup base is so good, the broth is secondary. You can always adjust the amount of broth that goes into the soup if 10 cups will make it too diluted.

At this point, throw in the ten or so sprigs of fresh thyme (or take them off the stems, also pretty), and a bunch of toasted garlic bread. Maybe 10 small rounds would be good. This is a lot of soup. Let the soup do its thing for maybe thirty minutes. Ladle the soup into serving bowls while it is still very hot, adding a mound of shredded gruyère to each bowl.

I almost forgot the popovers!

Nutmeg & Black Pepper Popovers
Recipe courtesy of Bon Apétit, December 2012

I added 2 tsp. sweet paprika to this recipe. I also added the parsley to the wet mix instead of the dry.

Whisk 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg in a medium bowl. Whisk 3 large eggs and 2 1/2 cups whole milk in a large bowl until well blended. Gently whisk in flour mixture, followed by 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter (do not overmix). DO AHEAD: Batter can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 425°. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter; grease 12 standard muffin cups with 1/2 teaspoons melted butter each. Pour batter into prepared muffin tins, filling cups three-quarters full and dividing equally. Bake popovers until puffed, golden brown, and crispy around edges, 30-35 minutes. Using a thin knife or an offset spatula, remove popovers from pan. Serve immediately.


Matt said...

This is going to be my weekend cooking outing. It is the middle of winter in the Great Lakes State and some french onion soup would go well with some nice Chateau Trocard '08!

mysouscalledvide said...

Hoorah! Glad you could find it. Let us know how it goes and what tweaks you make.

Anonymous said...

Wow sounds like a great gourmet cook is blogging! I appreciate your detail of slicing an onion...so I can skip going to Culinary School and just start slicing and cooking..your recipe explains so much on how the small details really make a great cook! Thank you..I will try this soup soon! And the wine also!

Matt said...

Dear Anonymous,

I'm confused, are you being sarcastic or do you not have a tight grasp on the English language?

This is good soup, I don't know what to do.