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 canâ€™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 foreverâ€¦
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…
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 â€œcutting 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 essentialâ€¦ Some people cheat by adding a teaspoon or two of sugar to hasten the process but I did notâ€¦ I waited patiently for the natural sugars to develop and their flavor was almost indescribably good.
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 Â½ 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 â€œmarryâ€ 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.
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 Gourdoâ€™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 lunchâ€¦ Simple, delicious, and incredibly satisfying. Homemade food rarely gets better than this…
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… :)