MISE EN PLACE:
Pitcher with measurement lines
Bay leaves (in sachet)
Vermouth, Apple Brandy, Brandy, Sherry, or vodka (alcohol)
Step 1: Figure out the amounts you need based on these ratios: 4 oz butter, 4 # sliced onion, ½ G beef stock, ½ G chicken stock, 3-4 oz alcohol. Gather, prepare and measure all your ingredients. Wash the cheesecloth, and prepare a sachet with just bay leaves. You may want to leave a longer end of twine or not cut off as much cheesecloth, so it will be easy to find in the soup at the end. If you are using base to make the stocks, measure 1.5 tsp per quart, and use a whisk to mix well. Step 2 will talk about how to slice the onions.
Step 2: Slice the onions. First cut the onion in half, pole to pole, through the root. Next, put the onions on their flat side down and remove the root by cutting a small wedge around it.
Position the onion so the lines are pointing at you. The plan is to cut with the grain. There are two ways to slice the onion. First, you can use all vertical cuts; place your guiding hand on the onion as normal (fingers curled, holding onion in place), and begin making 1/8” vertical cuts starting at one end of the onion. After you cut past the halfway point of the onion, you may start having trouble holding the onion steady. It may be easier to put the onion down on its other flat side (the side you have created with your cuts) and continue your 1/8” cuts. The other way of slicing the onions is to make radial cuts that all point towards the center of the onion. If you try that, place your guiding hand on the onion; make sure your fingers won’t be cut by any of the more horizontal cuts. Lean over so you can put the knife blade 1/8” from the cutting board; this is like setting up the first horizontal cut for brunoise. Make a cut towards the center of the onion, so the end result is a very thin onion wedge (skinner at the ends, thicker in the middle. Remember to cut with the grain. Make your way around the onion with all your cuts ending at the center of the onion. It might get hard towards the end, so you can just use vertical cuts at that point.
Separate the onions into three groups of equal weight.
Step 3: Place the butter and one group of the onions into a cold pan. Heat it over moderate heat. Let the onions sweat, and then caramelize. Keep the pan and your spatula moving constantly. Remember to keep scraping the sides of the pan as well. Keep an eye on the heat so the onions and butter don’t burn. The goal is a deep caramelization without burning. The onions should get very brown. Through this whole process, if some bits of onion are burned, remove them so they won’t ruin the soup.
Step 4: Add the next group of onions. Keep moving the pan, scraping the sides, and stirring. Cook until this group of onions starts getting a little soft and translucent. You should see some sweating and steaming.
Step 5: Add the last group of onions. Again, keep stirring and moving the pan; get all the new onions mixed in with the others. You don’t need to cook the third batch that long; mainly just make sure it’s all incorporated. There shouldn’t be much butter left at the bottom of the pan, because the onions should have absorbed it.
Step 6: Take the pan OFF THE FLAME, and add the alcohol to your hot pan. Return the pot to the heat. Continue stirring, scraping, and moving the pan. You should continue cooking until a sec. You can also use your nose and smell whether there’s still a lot of alcohol being cooked off. Then, add in the sachet and the broth. Bring it to a boil, and then lower it to a simmer. Let it reduce until it loses about 1/3-1/2 its liquid. Check on the simmer level and scrape the sides periodically.
Step 7: Remove the sachet. Taste the soup. You should mainly taste onion and some sweetness. If you still taste alcohol, you can simmer it longer and cook out more of the alcohol. If appropriate, spoon some out and enjoy. You can serve it with some cheese and french bread on the side.
Reflection: When we started cooking the onions for the soup today, I focused on getting the caramelization right for this recipe, since last week I didn’t caramelize properly for the Espagnole. I paid more attention to the heat, stirred more vigorously, and watched the color carefully. Wow, it paid off! My onions got really good caramelization, and that carried over to the final product, which had nice color and flavor. Now I realize how important the caramelization step is. If that step goes wrong, a lot of times the final product will be seriously lacking in color and flavor. It’s hard though, because it’s really easy to cross over into burning the butter and vegetables. I’m going to keep working on getting better at caramelization. Another thing I found out is I really like French Onion Soup. I’ve had it before, but it was not as full of onion flavor. All day long, all I’ve thought about is this soup and when I can make some more to eat. It felt really good today to have good caramelization and a good final product that I enjoyed eating.