Tuesday, June 5, 2012

another one of my many pet peeves...

I have a confession to make...I'm addicted to onions..that's right..I'm an onion junkie...hopelessly addicted!

like that old Richie Rich character..chances are on any given day you won't be able to get within 5 feet of me without your eyes watering from my super onion breath hahaha

it's no secret that in addition to being an onion junkie...I'm also probably in need of a 12-step program for CHEESE addiction as well...

ohh how I ♥ cheese!!

cheese & onions...what could be more awesome??

hence my life-long love affair with french onion soup...which was introduced to me by my grandmother when I was just knee-high to a grass hopper..oh yeah..waiters and waitresses would looked at us like we were nuts when I'd be sitting there in my booster seat drooling over a crock of french onion soup

(the looks didn't stop either..when unlike normal kids who were eating off the kiddy menu..for my entree they would order me broiled swordfish or filet mignon..ahh the 80's!)

anyway..growing up, I spent most weekends with my grandparents..and one of the things we did was go out for a nice dinner just about every Sunday..so over the years I became quite a connoisseur of french onion soup..and I learned that for some reason..a lot of people make REALLY BAD onion soup..and it drives me crazy!!

when I was probably like 8 years old I started judging a restaurant by it's french onion soup..if it's on the menu..I try it..and if IT sucks..the restaurant sucks!

it's true...if they can't handle making decent ONION SOUP there's not much hope that they can handle making ANYTHING

it's like how chefs judge people on their ability to make scrambled eggs..because they say that is the simplest thing to make and everyone screws it up...the same is true for onion soup

it is seriously one of the most ridiculously simple things to make (and make well) yet more often than not what you get tastes like dirty dish water with a couple stray onions (sometimes even bits of onion skin!)

I really don't understand what the problem is..first of all it's clear a lot of the time that what you're eating fell off the back of a SYSCO truck (it came from a can) and was just finished off in house with a bit of bread and cheese - this infuriates me! ...if I wanted to eat canned soup I could have stayed home in my PJs and done that myself in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost - if we're spending our hard earned money at your restaurant..please don't open up a can and feed me like I'm a fucking dog..seriously!!

so yeah...clue #1 if they serve CANNED soups..they suck!

but sometimes it's clear that they actually made the soup there..and they just don't know what the hell they're doing...I gotta give em credit for trying at least..but really..onion soup is almost as simple as boiling water

granted you have no control over the onions and like all produce..sometimes what ya get ain't all you'd hope for...but there's an easy solution to that problem..don't make onion soup that day!!

as a customer I would sure as hell rather be told I can't get something..than get it and wish I hadn't!

of course you usually hafta eat an onion to know if it's not all it should be..so this may mean having to start the soup before you realize it's not something you're gonna want to serve people..but that's life when you're dealing with food...when in doubt throw it out (or find another use for it...where the onions aren't the freakin' star of the dish!)

besides..if they're willing to serve something that tastes like dish water..I wouldn't put it past them to be proponents of the 60-second rule!

so clue #2 if they have bad quality control..they suck!

for some reason french onion soup is one of those restaurant things that people never think to make for themselves...people usually seem very surprised when I tell them I'm making it..but I'm so in love with it..and get tired of being disappointed in restaurants..so I learned to do it myself..it's actually one of the very first things I ever learned to cook because well..I wanted some..and I wanted it NOW! hahaha

to make good onion soup..one of the most important things you need is PATIENCE...it takes time to properly caramelize onions..and properly caramelized onions are ESSENTIAL for good onion soup!!

ideally I would use an enamel pot but since the kitchen gods have as of yet not blessed me with the Le Creuset pot of my dreams (prolly cause it costs more than my freakin' kitchen aid stand mixer!) ..I'm left with no choice but to use stainless steel..which is fine as long as it's a good quality, heavy bottom pot/pan...the really important thing is that you do NOT use non-stick!! - you need them to be able to get a bit sticky in order to get that yummy caramelization

anyway...so ya need to slice up some onions - for a dinner size portion for two I use about 5 good sized onions (for that many onions you need a good size pot..at least 4 quarts) - I usually use my Jamie Oliver T-Fal professional series round 5 qt casserole (that's a lot of words for one pan!)

you need to slice the onions evenly..and fairly thin...normally I'm not a stickler for uniformity when it comes to soup..I'm more into rustic..the purpose of uniformity is even cooking..and with soups and stews that's not generally an issue...however..in THIS case I make an exception

not a great pic but it gives you an idea of how they should be sliced...

I should prolly mention that there's a bit of olive oil & butter in the pan to help give it some place to go...ya don't want the onions to just burn to the bottom of the pan

oh..I also throw in a bit of thyme and a couple bay leaves at this point...

and I start them out at med-low to get them goin'..then put a lid on them and turn it down a bit to let them cook down slooooowly..I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be patient and just let them do their thing...keep an eye on them to make sure they're not cookin' too fast..so they don't burn..but otherwise..leave them alone!

eventually (after about an hour or so) they will look like this:

see how they're all nice and soft and fully cooked...and there's a bit of liquid in there? that's a good thing!

at this point you'll want to remove the lid but keep the heat nice and low...you'll need to keep a closer eye on them now as they're more likely to burn...the point of removing the lid is to let the moisture evaporate so the onions can start to brown and get sticky

'keep an eye on them' doesn't mean stir them around though..you want them to have plenty of contact with the bottom of the pan...poke around and see if they're getting golden on the bottom..if so..stir them around...keep doing this every so often until they look something like this:

(at this point you could just stop..package up your oniony awesomeness and save it for use in any number of delicious ways...from pastas to pizzas to paninis..to..infinity and beyond!)

by the way..now would be a good time to take out the bay leaves so ya don't hafta go fishing around in a full pot of hot liquid to find them..nobody want to choke to death on a bay leaf!

at the risk of sounding all technical 'n shit..the process of getting the onions all brown & sticky like this will create what is called a 'fond' (I think that's French for 'the BEST PART'! hahaha) which is just concentrated bits of flavor stuck to the bottom of the pan...of course I forgot to get a pic of that :/

anyway...to get up all those yummy bits..you want to 'deglaze' the pan (use liquid to make the sticky stuff unstick) ...in this case I use wine (red/white..depends on what I have more of..just PLEASE DON'T use cheap cooking wine like what you'd find in the supermarket grocery section!) ..although you could use broth..or even beer...a nice ale would be good in some onion soup - yum!

I use just enough to cover the onions and clean up the bottom of the pan

turn the heat up a bit and let this go until the wine starts to get a sorta syrupy consistency (should only take a few minutes on med - med-high)

next it's time to add the liquid..if I have any on hand I prefer to use my own beef stock..but I sometimes get lazy about making stocks...in my opinion..the next best thing is Pacific Foods organic low sodium beef broth -- A. it's organic and 2. it's moderately priced somewhere between garbage tinny tasting canned broth (like College Inn) and ridiculously expensive boxed broth (like Kitchen Basics or the various celebrity chef brands like Emeril or Rachael Ray)

when using store bought broths or stocks you ALWAYS want to make sure it says LOW SODIUM or NO SALT ADDED...this way YOU have control over the seasoning

anyway...like I said..once the wine has cooked down..it's time to add the broth...heat through and give it a taste..season with salt & pepper accordingly

voila...onion soup! see how dark it is..and full of onions? no dirty dish water here! (if that's too oniony you can always add more broth..leftovers freeze great)

hello...could it BE more simple??

right...so now that you have the 'hard' part done...it's time to frenchify your soup - and if you thought my pet peeves ended with the onions..you're WRONG!

they often screw up the bread..and sometimes even the cheese :/

one of my biggest pet peeves is a bad soup to bread to cheese ratio...this is very important you know..if you're like me and actually want some of each in every bite!

if I run out of bread at the end I'll forgive them..but I can't stand having to try to ration my cheese because they felt like goin' skimpy on me

anyway...one of the worst offenses I have seen was a place that actually used pre-packaged salad croutons as the bread...seriously..wtf?!

if you look at a recipe or description for french onion soup..it will usually say 'crouton' but what they mean is not a handful of dried out bread cubes you could break a tooth on...they mean a seasoned, toasted piece of bread..good bread..like a nice chewy, crusty hunk of french bread

if we have a loaf of french bread in the house I'll eat the whole damn thing..not to mention that a good loaf of french bread usually ain't cheap...so I avoid that if I can
our store often has a basket full of day old bread which usually has bags of portuguese rolls..which are very similar to french bread..crusty and chewy on the outside..soft on the inside..4/$1..ya can't beat that!

now..since our house is not a restaurant..I don't have the luxury of scrapping the onion soup idea if the onions turn out to be less than great..so I let the soup dictate how I treat the bread..if the onions are awesome and the soup is just right..I generally just butter the bread and pop it under the broiler for a quick toast

but if the soup could use a little help...I boost the 'crouton' a bit by making garlic toast or parmesan garlic toast out of it

either way..cut the bread as if you're making garlic bread (everyone knows what pieces of garlic bread look like, I assume)

if not..look HERE

meanwhile..ladle your soup into oven safe bowls or soup crocks..leaving enough room for the bread..it's ok if the bread is above the rim of the bowl)...and when your bread is done toasting..place it on top of the soup

as for the cheese..traditional french onion soup is done with gruyere..but I've had it with all sorts of different cheeses..provolone, mozzarella, mixes that included cheddar...they were all yummy..I guess it's just a matter of preference..you just want it to be something that melts well but has a little snap (in other words it won't just liquify when it hits the soup and have no texture..ya WANT it to get stringy and be a pain in the butt to break away..picture a fresh hot pizza)

we're blessed to have a store with an amazing cheese department..so I can have my pick of just about any kind of cheese imaginable..I usually use something called emmental..just because it's 'swissy' ..similar to gruyere but usually quite a bit less expensive

you can grate the cheese if ya don't mind a mess..or do it in slices..I usually grate it just because I think it melts quicker and more easily that way...but it doesn't matter..what matters is that you DON'T SKIMP!

pile that cheese up onto the bread..and pop the whole thing under the broiler..until it starts to get bubbly and golden brown in spots - KEEP AN EYE ON IT..if you walk away it WILL burn!!

this one prolly coulda stood a few more seconds under the broiler..just to brown it up a bit more..but I was getting impatient..it smelled so yummy!

so anyway..there ya have it..PROPER french onion soup...prolly one of the easiest 'restaurant dishes' you could ever make..and easily one of the most delicious!!


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePaHG6g7uFw

  2. awesomeness! hahaha ♥ it!! ...now that will be stuck in my head all day :)

    1. :) The whole movie, "The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash", is awesome if you ever get a chance to see it!

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  4. It was the absolute perfect song to go with this entry! (I have always thought, in the back of my mind) Cheese and Onions! Couldn't resist!!!

  5. hahaha I agree..it was perfect!
    and so is cheese & onions!
    now I'm hungry!