21 Aug2007

onion1

At least three of you nailed the mystery dish. Myra P. got it squarely on the head. Onion soup is one of the most common restaurant menu choices in Manila, and it is almost always poorly executed, in my opinion. I cannot explain it other than to say, “why bother if they can’t approximate a decent version?” This is the soup equivalent of the ubiquitous Caesar salad that is also done poorly in 90% of the cases… At any rate, how hard can it be? Onions, butter, herbs, beef broth, bread and cheese. But I have stopped asking how easy simple recipes must be because I am finding out that the simplest recipes are often the hardest to perfect. So I set out to make a French onion soup from scratch in our home kitchen. And once you have tasted a properly made crock of onion soup, you will be spoiled forever…

onion2

It started out defining what I considered to be a “home run” onion soup. Intense flavors, sweet and salty and well balanced. A hit of herbs and their unique fragrance. The soup had to be substantial, not a watery bowl full of onions and liquid. Mouth feel would be rich and silky. Comfort food with a capital C. I turned to a brilliant sounding recipe in the cookbook Bouchon, by my idol, Thomas Keller. If you followed his recipe serially (not make the broth simultaneously), the whole process could take 12 hours of elapsed cooking time! Yikes! But actually, the stirring part wasn’t taxing on the brain or muscles, just long and drawn out…

onion3

Start by purchasing some safety goggles, or at least some swimming goggles to block the onion tear stuff… Heehee. I kid you not, slicing onions for this soup is a MAJOR hassle. I purchased 7 pounds (just over 3 kilos of hard fresh white or Spanish onions. Remove the outer skin and slice in half vertically. Slice the onions to a uniform width from top to bottom. In other words, you have vertical slices of onion. Thomas Keller refers to this as “cutting on the line and with the grain rather than against the grain. This helps to soften the onions more. Make sure pieces separate from each other. You will have roughly two medium sized colanders FULL of sliced onions when you are done. Add 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter to a large heavy pot such as a Le Creuset, and add all the onions and one tablespoon of sea or kosher salt and turn the heat up to medium. Stir often until the butter is sizzling a bit and turn the heat down to low. Stir the onions every 10 minutes or so but take extreme care to ensure that the onions are not burning. After 1 hour, the onion liquids will start to dry up (a lot of water is extracted from the onions before this) and you continue to stir these over low heat until they turn a deep caramelized brown. It will take another 3+ hours, or a total of roughly 3.5-4.5 hours, depending on your onions, heat levels, etc. I know that sounds like a ridiculous amount of time, but do it once and you will understand why this slow process is essential… Some people cheat by adding a teaspoon or two of sugar to hasten the process but I did not… I waited patiently for the natural sugars to develop and their flavor was almost indescribably good.

onion4

Once the onions are done, add about 2 tablespoons of flour to the onions and stir for a minute or so. Add about 12-15 cups of beef broth, an herb sachet with several sprigs of fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried thyme), 3 fresh bay leaves (or 2 dried) and 15 peppercorns and simmer for about an hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add a few drops of sherry vinegar. This recipe has no wine component. Remove the herb sachet and discard it. Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool. Stick this in a refrigerator overnight for the flavors to “marry” each other. A note on homemade vs. canned beef broth. If you have the time, make the homemade beef broth, but I have to admit that good canned broth works very well in this recipe, just make sure you dilute the canned version and if possible use a low sodium alternative.

onion5

The next day, bring the soup to room temperature then heat it up until boiling. Make sure your oven broiler is on, then ladle about 1.5 cups of soup into each onion soup bowl (I ran out to Gourdo’s earlier to buy some), then top it with an oven baked French bread crouton and generous slices of emmenthal, comte or gruyere cheese and stick in the broiler until done. Serve immediately. This is EXTREMELY GOOD. The soup was thick, almost viscous. The flavor was incredibly sweet but naturally so, salty and intense but delicious. It was everything I had hoped for and even more brilliant on a rainy day. Actually, though the process is a bit of a pain in the rear, it can be done ahead of time. This is the perfect blend of salty cheese, broth soaked bread, onions, sugars, etc. If you like onion soup, you will love this homemade version. At home with The Kid (school holiday) and Mrs. MM, and paired with a green salad, this was my kind of birthday lunch… Simple, delicious, and incredibly satisfying. Homemade food rarely gets better than this…

onion6

This recipe with 7 pounds of onions served 7 people. It was also rather pricey. Onions roughly PHP300, butter, say PHP30, Low sodium beef broth, say PHP180, herbs PHP10, emmenthal cheese PHP400, bread PHP20 for a total cost of say PHP940 plus GAS. So the per serving cost of this properly made soup was roughly PHP150… restaurants would have to charge close to PHP400 to make money on this. Ouch. But it was worth every single centavo. I would probably lick my bowl if it wasn’t considered extremely rude… :)

 

COMMENTS:

  1. Sam says:

    You nailed it again, MM. I kinda guessed it but I strayed somewhere on your page :). Patience is indeed key in caramelizing onions. I learned my first lesson in making this wonderful soup years ago from an uncle who owned a french restaurant in the southwest. I did not understand why he kept me home on saturday mornings just peeling and slicing tons! of onions, then standing oven the pot stirring. On my vacation!!! It was a tearful, but highly rewarding experience. I do not make this often, but whenever the craving hits me, I wait until the weekend, open my windows, turn up the vents, and fun ensues. It is really an explosion of flavors, and of course, it’s also my favorite at Bouchon. Starting with onion soup, who will not adore Thomas Keller? Belated happy birthday!!

    Aug 21, 2007 | 4:42 pm

     
  2. suzette says:

    french onion soup??? why didn’t i think of that??? it’s because i don’t know how to make one hahaha. all my life, i just tasted one at the makati shang, but i remember how good it tasted and how expensive it was… i would believe you if you’d say this is what you only had with some crackers for your birthday lunch… grabe mm! sabaw pa lang ulam na :)

    Aug 21, 2007 | 4:49 pm

     
  3. millet says:

    ooohhh….my two most favorite soups are pancit molo and french onion soup, with the top of the bowl sealed entirely by a gruyere or emmenthal crust. there used to be a steak house on the ground floor of ermita center building on roxas blvd. (is it still there at all?)–i think it was called eddie’s–they had very good french onion and navy bean soups, and that’s all i remember eating there all the time.

    Aug 21, 2007 | 5:07 pm

     
  4. Rowi says:

    I love French onion soup but it’s a pain in the okole (as they say in Hawaii) to make it but worth every tear shed (while peeling the onions)!

    Congratulations on capturing the essence of a well-done home-made soup with your photos, which are getting more and more enticing with each blog. I like the first and the herb photos a lot.

    Hope you had a lovely birthday celebration! Many happy and abundant returns!

    Aug 21, 2007 | 5:26 pm

     
  5. Blaise says:

    Belated happy birthday MarketMan.. I suppose those three who guessed it right must have, let’s say, a prize?! hehe.. ;)

    Aug 21, 2007 | 5:46 pm

     
  6. lee says:

    I’m so glad my guess is so close!

    Aug 21, 2007 | 6:20 pm

     
  7. Joni says:

    OMG, I so love French Onion soup… :) I was going to guess this, but I didn’t even get to greet ya…

    So, belated Happy Birthday MarketMan! :)

    Thanks for this post… You just made my day.

    Cheers! :)

    Aug 21, 2007 | 6:28 pm

     
  8. joey says:

    I spent half my life thinking I didn’t like french onion soup until I tasted a good one at a now-closed French restaurant. I love to try this one day when I’ve got a lot of time…sounds lovely! Do you have a good beef stock recipe/method/technique/tips you can recommend?

    Aug 21, 2007 | 6:30 pm

     
  9. Pecorino says:

    French Onion Soup crossed my mind yesterday but I junked it thinking you were making a main course.

    I actually had TK’s French Onion Soup at Bouchon in Las Vegas last year (wonderful French bistro btw!) It was very good and is comparable to some I’ve tasted in France. But I must say I still prefer my own recipe, that’s why I never made his version. Besides, his recipe takes way too long. Mine takes about 5 hours and yields a richer soup (although here I use Thomas Keller’s beef stock recipe which I simmer overnight).

    Bouchon’s Roast Chicken (Poulet Roti) was rated glowingly by Anthony Bourdain. Sad to say I read his review AFTER I went there. So I didn’t get the chance to taste it. But I’ve made TK’s Roast Chicken several times and it is excellent. Some reveiwer said that the Bouchon book is worth buying if only for the Roast Chicken recipe. I agree!

    Aug 21, 2007 | 7:09 pm

     
  10. marosee says:

    belated happy birthday MM!

    i’m a little intimidated by the amount of time i have to cook the onions but i just tried your paella recipe and it was really good even though cooking the sofrito for 2.15 hours was intimidating too so i bow to your experience and will try your recipe.thanks for sharing! it saves us from making mistakes. =)

    Aug 21, 2007 | 8:06 pm

     
  11. Socky says:

    You and Myra P (who guessed your mystery dish and even described it in great detail) share the same birthday! Weird…very weird…

    Aug 21, 2007 | 8:50 pm

     
  12. Marketman says:

    Socky, you think people born on the same day really have the same preferences and ways of thinking??? :) Marosee, brava to you for making the sofritto from scratch…here’s a tip. Make 2-3 recipes at once and freeze the extras. That way, the next time you make a paella, it will be a breeze. Just don’t keep the stuff frozen for more than say a month or so. Pecorino, now I am curious, will try the chicken recipe! Joey you have to roast the bones first, before a 5-6 hour simmer with veggies, etc. But frankly, if you use a good canned low sodium beef stock such as Swanson’s, this soup will still turn out brilliant! Thanks everyone for continued birthday greetings!…

    Aug 21, 2007 | 9:17 pm

     
  13. Apicio says:

    Lee, 5-6 hours I think is around right to catch free range chicken by hand, slaughter , dress, section and marinate them in butter milk if you want Southern style or lots of garlic and paprika if you want Flamenco (finger clicking good they say) and finally fry them.

    I remember watching on TV in stupefied fascination when Julia Child first tried to melt the gruyere strands huddled on top of croutons floating on the surface of crocks of French onion soup using an acetyline torch and it was at that point that I turned to the equally laborious lobster bisque as my preferred celebratory French soup for good.

    Aug 21, 2007 | 9:37 pm

     
  14. teny says:

    MM is dry sherry same with sherry vinegar?

    Aug 21, 2007 | 9:51 pm

     
  15. Myra P. says:

    ** takes a bow ***

    All I can say is GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE :D

    Aug 21, 2007 | 9:54 pm

     
  16. elaine says:

    Patience is a virtue….the soup looked fantastic and must have tasted fantastic..I think this dish is worth every peso, labored with love(and patience) for a special occassion, in the comforts of your home, with loved ones and friends…PERFECT!

    Aug 21, 2007 | 10:38 pm

     
  17. buckythetarayslayer says:

    so that’s what the mystery dish is! I love soup MM, I could live off it that’s for sure. Patience is the key to success ika nga, when it comes to making a really good onion soup. Ooo, do you have a recipe for other creamy soups, say clam chowder?

    Aug 21, 2007 | 10:44 pm

     
  18. rhea says:

    i love onions even if they make everyone teary eyed. If I can make a soup like that, I have to admit that I will indeed lick my bowl..in secret. hehehe

    Aug 22, 2007 | 12:19 am

     
  19. dhayL says:

    Now i understand why making this soup can take up to several hours to cook…If one will follow the exact recipe and take no shortcuts, there is no doubt that you will be rewarded with something very extraordinary in taste with such ordinary ingredients that’s readily availabe to us!

    I have some query regarding onions. I know that you’re not supposed to store them in the fridge, and not to store them right next to your potatoes. But I noticed that if you leave the onions in the fridge for a few hours or so, they don’t make my eyes teary during the peeling and cutting process. If I’m to make this soup and decide to put the onions in the fridge first to escape the “crying moment”, would that make a big difference, rather than using onions at room temperature?
    I just thought I’d ask you.. thanks!

    Aug 22, 2007 | 7:02 am

     
  20. Marketman says:

    dhayl, cold onions do seem to make one cry less. Apparently, so does running a faucet with cold water right near where you are doing the chopping or washing your knife frequently… but I am not sure why this works… and I suppose it is okay to chill the onions for a little while before chopping; after all, in some western countries, kitchens are pretty cool to begin with… Myra P., yes, I was AMAZED how you described the dish, I thought you had a hidden mini-cam in our kitchen but I couldn’t find it after much searching…. heeheehee. teny, no dry sherry and sherry vinegar are a little different. But if you are in a pinch, I suspect a touch of sherry or otherwine vinegar might work… Apicio and Lee, hahaha. I know Lee is dying for a fried chicken recipe but until I figure out my deep fryer without burning down the house I had to put fried chicken on the “back burner.” Apicio, arrrgh, lobster bisque is even more “makuti,” Mrs. MM made it one Christmas and she started several days before the meal!

    Aug 22, 2007 | 7:11 am

     
  21. Cumin says:

    So that’s the mystery dish! Looks wonderful. If I can’t lick the soup bowl in public, I would certainly wipe it squeaky clean with a piece of bread. Congratulations, Myra P, and happy birthday, too!

    Aug 22, 2007 | 8:16 am

     
  22. lee says:

    Apicio, Your vivid description reminds me of the opening chicken chase scene in the movie “City of God” (Cidade de Deus) except that the chicken was not free range and it happened in the eskinitas of a Brazilian slum.

    Aug 22, 2007 | 9:00 am

     
  23. Adam says:

    MM, happy belated birthday. Great recipe and very vivid description. Lee – Nice to see a mention for City of God on this site. One of the greatest movies.

    Aug 22, 2007 | 9:16 am

     
  24. lee says:

    hahaha.. I overlooked a few words from Marketman’s entry.. “I have been cooking something for the past 5-6 hours.” Gulp, gulp…I swallow my pride and dream of chicken fried. See why I’m willing to trade my left thumb for an ounce of apicio’s wit?

    Aug 22, 2007 | 9:17 am

     
  25. dhayL says:

    Thanks MM for answering my Q.

    Lee, i don’t make fried chicken a lot, but when i do, i marinate the chicken in buttermilk with a pinch of curry powder, salt, pepper, garlic and garlic powder overnight. Just when i’m ready to fry it, i then dip the chicken to my “dry mixture” which consist of flour, paprika, cayenne pepper(optional), a little bit of garlic powder, or basically you can add anything you want according to you preference. I use a cast iron pan for my fried chicken, do not over crowd the pan and separate the legs and thigh or breast when frying. Hope that helps!

    Aug 22, 2007 | 9:19 am

     
  26. Titanons says:

    Just happened that I was watching a replay of Martha Stewart show on tv this am and her recipe for the day required slicing a bunch of onions. A good tip that Martha said about avoinding teary slicing of onions is to put a lighted candle beside your chopping board. Apparently, the flame or heat of the candle absorbs the chemical that causes ones eyes to tear up. I surely will use this technique when I cook your french onion soup recipe. I remember when I was working in Makati, way back in the 90’s, my officemates and I would go to this resto at Makati Ave. I’ve forgotten the name of the resto, but it served pizzas which you would eat with a knife and fork. And their onion soup was the best!!! I wonder if this resto is still around?

    Aug 22, 2007 | 9:40 am

     
  27. Crissy says:

    That looks great! Finding good French Onion Soup is frustrating. The best one I’ve tried so far is in Camp John Hay Manor in Baguio

    Aug 22, 2007 | 9:48 am

     
  28. Booey says:

    BElated happy birthday! Hope it was great… Gourmand at the fort serves a very good bowl of french onion soup… i wasnt a fan of the soup until i tried their’s and i’ve been hooked since… if you don’t have 12hours to make one from scratch, try theirs, worth the trip… at least based on my amateur french onion soup tastebuds :)

    Aug 22, 2007 | 9:53 am

     
  29. Myra P. says:

    MM, you’ve posted on Payard and Balthazar, have you had their French Onion Soups?

    Cumin, thanks! I also prepared a birthday meal, but it’s was nowhere near as fantabulous as MM’s :)

    Aug 22, 2007 | 10:35 am

     
  30. Marketman says:

    Myra, Happy Birthday to you too! Unfortunately, I never got to the Balthazar onion soup but I had the Payard one years ago. I think any decent french kitchen can pull this off since they are preparing lots of broths and sauces over hours of elapsed time… Booey, yes, I do like Gourmand and eat there a few times a year. Crissy, I suspect the Manor soup is a good one considering Billy King of Le Souffle fame is running the kitchens up there… Titanons, I like the candle option for no tears…

    Aug 22, 2007 | 10:42 am

     
  31. sonny sj says:

    Belated Happy Birthday MM.

    Another secret to avoid crying while slicing onoins is to use a very, very sharp knife. The sharp edge of the knife knife would smoothly slice through the onions cells(as against the crushing effect of a dull knife), thus avoiding the splatter of the fine mist of onion juices that makes us cry. This works for me!

    Aug 22, 2007 | 11:12 am

     
  32. CecileJ says:

    So lick the bowl…the soup certainly looks bowl-lickinglicious!!! Not one of us thousands of blog voyeurs are looking! Hehe!

    I can only dream of making this as it’s too time-intensive for a busy working mom like me. Maybe when I retire….

    Aug 22, 2007 | 1:40 pm

     
  33. Mandy says:

    i never would’ve guessed you made onion soup for your birthday. i had onin soup only once in my life and it tasted only so-so. but i really love onions and i should try making onion soup one of these days. :)

    Aug 22, 2007 | 6:00 pm

     
  34. Hazel says:

    Belated Happy bday!

    I just wanted to ask if you could use the humungous dole onions (the ones you featured before and can also be found in supermarkets) to make this soup? Thanks!

    Aug 23, 2007 | 2:55 pm

     
  35. Marketman says:

    Hazel, yes, those would work well for this soup, but they would cost a pretty penny since they tend to cost a lot more per kilo…

    Aug 23, 2007 | 3:32 pm

     
  36. Susan says:

    I’m so glad French Onion soup was one of my guesses. I love this soup soooo much! I try to order it when a restaurant we go to has it on the menu. Which restaurant here in Manila serves the best for you? I would like to try it. Wish I could try Thomas Keller’s version at French Laundry. Thanks and more power!!!!

    Aug 24, 2007 | 5:50 pm

     
  37. Susan says:

    I love french onion soup soooo much! I try to order it when a restaurant we go to has it on the menu. Which restaurant here in Manila serves the best for you? I would like to try it. Wish I could try Thomas Keller’s version at French Laundry. Thanks and more power!!!!

    Aug 24, 2007 | 5:54 pm

     
  38. Jason says:

    Thanks for posting this recipe. I’ve made it for my family about 3 times in the past month and they are absolutely addicted. My best friend came over the other day and tried a bowl and said, “You know, usually I would compliment whatever you cook just because you cooked it. But I honestly think this is the best soup I’ve ever had in my life.”

    Cheers!

    Dec 8, 2007 | 1:07 pm

     
  39. Marketman says:

    Jason, I am glad the recipe works for you, it is definitely one of our favorites…

    Dec 8, 2007 | 1:11 pm

     
  40. jonathan says:

    I love this soup, only started making soup 2 weeks ago. And I also added some tumeric.

    Apr 27, 2009 | 5:01 am

     
 

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