Monday, February 7, 2011

French Onion Soup (Soupe À L'oignon).....portends of spring!

We have on our docket to head to Paris and southern France during the spring to soak up more culinary ambience....but until then, it's dreaming in the kitchen. This led us to think of something French to make, of course, ... and what came to our minds first, none other than....

French Onion Soup (Soupe À L'oignon).
First, you'll need some good bread to put in the soup. If you don't have some day-old French bread or wish for something different, then off to the bakery we did...make your own!

Saffron Bread or Rolls
This is a recipe we made up years ago in celebration of spring, as these have a rich yellow color and provide flavorful delights to any springtime meal.
Dissolve 1 packet or 1 tablespoon yeast
in 1/2 cup (125 ml) warm water.
Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and two pinches of Saffron threads (Crocus sativus).
Let sit at room temperature until the yeast is bubbling furiously.
Add this to: 1 cup (250 ml) heated milk, 1/4 cup (75 ml) olive oil, 2 cloves crushed garlic (Allium sativum), 1 onion (Allium cepa), finely chopped, and 1/2 small bunch fresh chives (Allium scheonoprasum), finely chopped.
Slowly mix in 1/2 cup cornmeal, then add in enough flour to make this a suitably stiff dough. Knead vigorously until the sweat stands out on your brow. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a tea towel, and put into a warm oven to rise. Punch down the dough in 45-60 minutes and let it rise again.
Form into either 2 loaves of bread or make circular or triangular buns. Place in greased bed pans (bread) or baking sheets (buns) to rise again. Heat oven to 160C or ~375F. Before placing bread or buns into the oven, brush each with an egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water plus a few Saffron threads for color). Bake until brown and delightfully crispy.
You might have to sample one right away with some fresh butter (maslo), just to ensure to sample the perfection.
Ok, now that the bread is made and's time for the the stock base for the soup.

Roast Beef Stock
You will need an excellent, flavorful roast beef stock as the base for your soup. Plan this in advance! Don't use those salty, fake beef bouillon cubes from the store....they're full of who knows what (perhaps even monosodium glutamate, MSG!). Make your own stock.
For this, make a beef roast! You can get 3-4 meals out of a beef roast. First, sear a good cut in olive oil using your favorite old-fashioned cast iron pan (after rubbing the cut with sea salt and fresh ground pepper). Add in 1-2 fresh bay leaves, 2-3 cloves crushed garlic, 1/2 bunch fresh parsley (finely chopped). When seared, pour 1/2 bottle of your favorite French red wine (Bordeaux, mais oui?) over the roast and roast in the oven uncovered for 1/2 hour at 180C (~400F); then cover and drop the temperature to 130C (~325F) and let it slowly bake until tender. (Likewise, if you're in a bit of a hurry, after searing, place the roast and all tasty components into a pressure cooker and cook, according to direction for your cooker, until it is done). Either way, you'll end up with your first meal of tasty, roast beef.  Maybe complement it with roasted leeks, potatoes, carrots, and onions as we did.
Meal two can be Boeuf au jus sandwiches for lunch the next day. Use the Saffron rolls, cut up some slices of beef (warm them in a pan with some of the au jus). Place the beef inside of the rolls and use the au jus as a side sauce for dipping. Pair with a bit of melted Parmesan Reggiano cheese and slices of fresh pear on the side. Bon appetit!
Now, for the third meal, use the beef stock to make your fabulous French Onion Soup! Set the remainder of the stock aside; toss the used Bay leaves over your shoulder for good flavor. If you have ~ 8 cups of stock (2 L), you're ready to go. If not, add in additional water to get the proper volume. Set aside for use in a few minutes.

French Onion Soup (Soupe À L'oignon)
Finally...we have all of the necessary ingredients to make soup!
Peel  ~7 large onions. Leave the basal plate in place. Cut each onion lengthwise down the middle. Then slice thin wedges off on your cutting board, making sure that each wedge has a fraction of the basal plate. This will ensure that each wedge stays together while caramelizing, creating little fans of onions to enjoy while eating the soup.
Caramelize the onions over a fairly warm fire in your favorite cast iron pan, along with adequate butter to  coat them. Stir occasionally to avoid blackening too much. When the onions have become translucent, keep stirring until they turn caramel brown in color. The onions should have enough starch or sugars to caramelize properly (some chefs add sugar to ensure they caramelize properly, although we resist this quick fix).
Once caramelized, add the onions and all drippings into your favorite large stock pot. Stir in 1/2 cup of fine flour to make a roux. Add in the beef stock, 1 cup (250 ml) white wine and let simmer for 1/2 hour. Then add in 1/2 cup (125 ml) of French Cognac (Courvoisier, perhaps?)--this is a must! Proper French Onion Soup must have Cognac in it. Cognac adds in an essential flavor that will transform your Soupe a l'oignon from just 'bon' to 'tres bon'!
Simmer longer until you're ready to plate up.
Choose your favorite soup bowls for serving. Maybe they're small ones or larger ones with wide rims for the cheese to display itself artfully. Ladle in the hot Soupe a l'oignon. Cut one Saffron bun in half lengthwise and float in the soup (or add in one thick slice of Saffron bread). Shave on top some pieces of Parmesan Reggiano cheese, as well as some fresh or aged Mozzarella to cover the top of the bread and soup. 
Place each bowl under a hot broiler to let the cheese thoroughly melt.
Serve. Eat and enjoy!
Bon appetit!

Mark is thanking Julia Child for her continued inspiration of French cuisine to all people...

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

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