Thursday, December 11, 2008

Way Too Many Onions! French Onion Soup

I accidentally bought a 10 pound bag of onions last week, not realizing that I already had a nearly full 10 pound bag, giving us close to 20 pounds of onion-y goodness.

Sad vintage ceramic onion full of Splenda on my stovetop

We use a lot of onions, but 20 pounds is a bit much to have on hand in cold-weather months, when the house is heated. Without a cool storage place onions can go bad quickly.

In an valiant effort to save the onions from certain ruination, I made French Onion Soup yesterday afternoon. I don't have an exact recipe, but honestly don't think it needs one. It is delicious and worth the minimal effort it takes. The hardest part is slicing the onions. I use a crock pot, so it probably does take a bit longer than doing it in an open pan, but again, that's not a bad thing. Slow cooking allows the soup a chance for the flavors to meld and mix, adding to the end result.

Way Too Many Onions! French Onion Soup Recipe
  • Yellow or white onions, sliced very thinly, about 4 pounds.
  • Dry Sherry, about ½ cup
  • butter or margarine, ½ cup. I use butter. You should use what you prefer.
  • minced garlic, about 2 tablespoons. You can mince your own, or use the stuff in jars. I use the stuff in jars. We really like garlic, so this may be too much for your family. Adjust accordingly.
  • pepper, to taste
  • grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta ^) to taste. Widely-used in medieval Europe, this spice is peppery, but is not actually pepper. If you don't have any, use more pepper. Or not. Lots of people don't like as much pepper as we do, and there is almost no shame in that at all.
  • beef and/or chicken broth, 2 quarts. Either is good, neither are shown in the picture below. I use gluten-free, which is easy to find if you read labels.
  • Better Than Broth beef soup base. Or chicken. Use the one you like best. Concentrated broth, this is pretty salty. I start with 2 teaspoons or so, and adjust up until the flavor is right. You could use bouillon cubes instead, but the BTB(^) tastes better to me - more meat flavor. I have found it at Target and Wal*Mart in the grocery dept on the same shelf as bouillon cubes. It comes in jars.
  • white cheese, sliced or grated. I use Swiss or Gruy√®re, others use Provolone or whatever else they like. I can't give an exact amount, because we don't eat all of the soup at one time. Basically, you want enough to cover the top of the soup in individual oven proof bowls. If you don't have oven-proof bowls, use micro-wave safe bowls, top the soup and nuke the bowls until the cheese is melted. This would be under a minute (perhaps 45 seconds) in my 1000 watt microwave.
  • bread. I don't use bread in my soup, because we don't eat gluten. Instead, I serve it with GF bread sticks. If I added GF bread, it would go mushy. If gluten isn't an issue, lightly toast bread slices, one for every serving of soup and reserve.
  • dried Parmesan cheese, optional. I sometimes add a sprinkle at the end before the cheese goes under the broiler.

Some of the ingredients for French Onion Soup
(vintage onion jar for effect - no kitschy ceramics in the actual soup)


1). Thinly slice enough onions to fill your crock pot:

thinly sliced onions & butter

I use a large 6-quart crock pot and make a huge batch, but know that we'll eat it over the next few days plain with bread and a salad; in place of au jus with sandwiches; cooked down and thickened to use in pot pie or shepherd's pie, etc. It won't go to waste.

If your crock pot is smaller, adjust accordingly. If you don't have a crock pot, this will take less time, but require more monitoring.

It takes about 4 pounds of onions (yellow and/or white) sliced thinly, to fill my crock pot.

2). Add ½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, sliced into 8 pieces or so on top of the onion slices.

Thinly sliced onions with butter pats on top. This is my 6-quart crock pot.

3). Turn the crock pot to low, put the lid on, and check frequently at first to be sure that low isn't too high (mine has warm, low and high as options). Crock pot performance varies, so check if you aren't familiar with how your pot works. It takes several hours for the onions to go limp, then eventually become clear and then begin to caramelize. If the onions are crispy or charred at all, the temperature is too high.
After about 90 minutes in my crock pot, the butter had mostly melted and the the onions had wilted a bit, well on their way to caramelized yumminess:

After 90 minutes, the onions are wilting and the butter is mostly melted.

4). After the onions have cooked clear and are beginning to caramelize, which in my pot takes about 5 hours, add the garlic, sherry, Better than Broth, and broth.

Nearly-finished soup

5). Carefully raise the heat and cook for another hour or so, until the soup has reduced a bit. Check frequently to assure that the pot isn't over-heating the soup. I don't allow it to come to a full boil, but do allow it to come to a simmer, so that it begins to slowly reduce.

6). Season with pepper and grains of paradise (if desired).

Four pounds is a lot of onions, isn't it?

7). Ladle soup into oven proof bowls, add a slice of toasted bread (of your choice - if I could eat "regular" bread, I'd use a French baguette).

8). Top with cheese of your choice, and set bowls under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese begins to bubble a bit.

9). Immediately remove bowls from oven, and carefully set on individual small plates to serve (because they will be very hot!!!

10). Serve with a hunk of French bread, bread sticks, or with crackers. I usually serve it with a small salad and fruit.

Dan eating delicious French Onion soup. Yummy!

Yay, he likes it!
Allez cuisine!

Helpful Hints:
  • I don't have a fail-proof trick to stop the tears you may shed from cutting lots of onions, but not cutting the root end off until I have to seems to help, as does slicing near a faucet with warm water running. YMMV, of course.
  • Don't use cooking sherry, as it's often salted so you can't drink it. It is sold in the grocery store vs the liquor store, so it's salted so as to be undrinkable. Buy the liquor store version instead as it's much cheaper and doesn't taste like the Dead Sea.
  • Be safe. Check your crock pot often until you are familiar with the way it works. My Low may be your High.
  • If you feel like there is too much fat in the recipe, chilling the completed soup and skimming the solidified butter from the top is an easy way to fix it. Also, low-fat Swiss is a great choice for the cheese.
Finally, this is my stove top. It's a closed top stove, and I it! Easy to clean, with even heat that reaches temperature quickly. I'd probably love a gas stove a bit better; maybe in the next house.

The usual suspects

I rarely ever use the back burners, even though I cook a lot. I just never seem to need it.

Friar Cookie Jar detail. He looks sneaky, don't you think?

The unused back burners hold my three favorite cookie jars, a Twin Winton Lamb cookie jar, a Friar cookie jar (I don't know his manufacturer) , and a McCoy Cookies Barrel cookie jar. Plus the sad onion guy, and usually a set of salt and pepper shakers.

Current mood: (hungry)

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