Saturday, 27 August 2011

Traditional Recipes: French Onion Soup

Onions are the hardest working ingredient in the kitchen. From ragu and hotdogs to sausage and mash, onions are the key players in a number of dishes. But every now and again, it's nice to let them shine in their own right. French onion soup is one of the dishes that does this in a spectacular way - if you can handle all the tears from the onions.

Having been admitted from the chef's Bible, Le Repertoire de la Cuisine, French onion soup saw a rival in the 1960's, perhaps as a result of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It contains few ingredients and the key is to use the best stock available to you. I find this is best done by making your own - it's cheap and easy. I've seen various recipes calling for different stocks and, though beef stock is the traditional choice, I used chicken stock because I had some in the freezer.

French Onion Soup

Makes 4-6 portions
20g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
600g white onions, thinly sliced
1 large clove of garlic, sliced
2 teaspoons plain flour
2-3 tablespoons dry sherry
1 litre stock (veal, beef or chicken)
salt and pepper
4-6 slices of ciabatta
50g Gruyère cheese, grated

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter and add the olive oil. On a very low heat, add the onions and garlic then allow them to sweat for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. They will turn brown as they caramelise and release their natural sugars (pictured, right).
In a small pan, flambe the sherry then add to the onions along with flour and stir it together.   
Next, add the stock and season to taste and let simmer for 30 minutes.
Carefully transfer the soup to either individual tureens or a single large tureen. Spread the cheese over the ciabatta slices and place on top of the soup. Grill or bake until the cheese has melted and browned. (Otherwise, grill the ciabatta and cheese separately to the soup).