Monday, November 15, 2010

French onion soup!

Believe it or not, this was my first time making French onion soup. Several years ago, I had an intense bout of IBS--thanks to Accutane--which lasted about five years. During that time, I couldn't eat onions or beans. Then one day, all the digestive weirdness disappeared, and I discovered I could eat onion and beans again. As you know--half the recipes on this blog feature those items. But since then, I've avoided French onion soup. I can't say why.

So the other day, when I had a craving for some really deep, complex taste, my brain pulled French onion soup out of nowhere. "And look at that," I told myself, "I have a 10-lb bag of onions just waiting!" Cost: $5.48. So away I went.

I adapted Anthony Bourdain's recipe from the Les Halles cookbook. Here it is, in adapted form:

1 stick of butter
6 really big onions, halved and sliced very very thin
a big splash each (2-3 tablespoons) port and balsamic vinegar
2 quarts homemade stock

Get a really big pot and melt the butter slowly, over medium heat, while you chop the onions. Cry. Add the onions, still over medium heat, and let them cook down until they are approximately the color of a penny. This will take at least half an hour. Don't stand over them stirring constantly, either. You want some of them to burn a little and stick to the bottom. Just let them do their thing.

After they've cooked down sufficiently, all soft and dark brown, deglaze with the port and vinegar, scraping up all the brown stuff on the bottom of the pan. Add the stock (any kind is fine; chicken, veggie, whatever, but the darker and more intense the stock is, the better the soup will be). I also added a bouquet garni--technically, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, and a couple other things tied up in a little cheesecloth packet, but I tied up a bay leaf and a bunch of loose dried herbs because I didn't have any fresh.

Let that cook down for about an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Find some ovenproof bowls and get the broiler going. Toast some bread, or find some stale bread. Ladle in the soup, and add enough bread to cover the top. Add a handful of really good grated Gruyere. Broil that for a minute, just long enough to blister the top of the cheese, and serve immediately. And carefully.

The Gruyere aside, this soup costs practically nothing. Bought in bulk, all those onions cost maybe $2. I made the stock myself, and if you don't have any port on hand, use a splash of red wine instead. Let's say another $1 for the stick of butter. That's a shade over $3 for an entire pot of French onion soup, at least six full-meal adult servings. Now, granted, I spent $10 on a really good hunk of cheese and used most of it. But even so, that's maybe $10 total for the whole shebang. That's less than $2 a serving, for a soup that requires very little maintenance and no prep, aside from onion chopping. Use veggie stock and leave off the cheese, and you've got a great vegan dish.

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