Monday, February 11, 2013

Cook My Mailbox - Weekend V, Part II

French onion soup, to me, is one of those dishes that you can judge a restaurant by.  Is the broth the right combination of rich and clean?  Are the onions meltingly soft and sweet, but not disintegrated? Most of all, is that layer of broiled cheese and toasted bread so delicious when spooned up with the soup that you want to weep tears of gratitude?

I have had many, many bowls of disappointing onion soup*, and three that were truly memorable.  The classic French version from La Bonne Soupe, one of my favorite spots in NYC, is awesome, and I still go back for it any chance I get.  I savored an impeccably done bowl one night at Daniel Bouloud's now closed Brasserie in the Wynn, Las Vegas, while swans floated by outside the window.  Finally, one rainy afternoon, years ago, on my own for a business trip,  I went down to the restaurant at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge and ordered the onion soup. Instead of the traditional version, theirs had apple cider in it, and a bubbling layer of sharp cheddar cheese on top.  It was so surprisingly great that the memory of it still haunts me to this day**.

I normally don't even bother making onion soup at home, because my husband can't stand the stuff***.  This weekend, though, I used the occasion of the blogger meeting soup theme to give it a shot****.  Partially I was drawn in by the moutwatering photo in "Onion Love" section of the Feb/March issue of Fine Cooking, but mostly I was trying to bring back that rainy afternoon in Cambridge.

I have to say, this came awfully close.

Onion Soup with Beer and Apple Cider 
I used the method and ideas from this recipe, and added the apple cider and my latest cheesy bread addiction into the mix.  Please use the ratios here as a rough guideline.  I'm pretty sure I varied from this as I was tasting and adjusting as I went, but this is a great starting point.

For the soup:
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 lb. sweet yellow onions, sliced lengthwise
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. flavorful ale
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. apple cider or fresh apple juice
2 1/2 c. chicken stock
1 1/2 c. beef stock

For the cheesy bread topping:
several slices french baguette
1/2 c. fromage fort, or crumbled/grated sharp white cheddar cheese

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy duty pot over medium high heat until shimmering hot. Add the onions and reduce the heat to medium. Cook without stirring for 5-7 minutes, until the onions on the bottom of the pot begin to brown. Sprinkle in 1/4 tsp. of salt and a grind of fresh pepper and stir. Continue cooking for another or 20-30 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom frequently, until the onions are very soft and golden brown.

Add the ale, the apple cider vinegar, and 1/2 of the apple cider to the pot, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat back down to medium, and simmer vigorously until the liquids have mostly been absorbed, and the mixture is quite thick, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the remaining apple cider, the chicken stock and the beef stock. Lower the heat and continue simmering for another 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, lightly toast the baguette slices. Cover them with the cheese, and broil until cheese is bubbling and just beginning to brown.

Taste and adjust the seasoning of the soup, then ladle into bowls. Top each bowl with one or two***** slices of the hot cheesy bread, and serve.

Click to print this recipe!

* One place put white American cheese on top, "because we were out of Swiss in the back."  SO GROSS!!!  Talk about haunting me to this day.
** Yes, I know this is not normal, and that I should probably go see someone about it.
*** Yes, I know this is not normal, and that he should probably go see someone about it.
**** My anxiety level about what to bring to the LA Food Blogger potluck was probably something like what Oscar nominated supporting actresses feel about what to wear on the red carpet.  Judgement time! Like them, I had a back-up outfit in the works in case of emergency, and this soup was it.
***** Or four.


  1. a properly prepared batch of onion soup is a thing of beauty! this looks great, but the very thought of american cheese anywhere near it makes me shudder. :)

    1. I sent the soup back so fast it made the guy's head spin. Haven't set foot in there since.