A French Winter Classic with a British Twist
Caramelised French Onion Soup
TATIANA HAS CHOSEN A CLASSIC WINTER WARMER FOR HER RECIPE FOR THIS ISSUE. THE PREPARATION TIME FOR THE STOCK MAY TAKE SOME TIME, BUT YOU WILL HAVE THE BASIS FOR NOT ONLY YOUR SOUP, BUT SOME FANTASTIC GRAVY TOO
French sweet onion soup is a thing of beauty and one of my favourite winter dishes ever since I took my first trip to Paris in 2004.
By now you are probably used to my long and picky methods but this one might just have reached new levels of madness, from selecting the ingredients, to preparing them.
This soup has become a bit of an obsession and I’ve strived to perfect it over the years. Now, over 10 years since I first tried it, I am finally happy with the finished recipe and am ready to pass it on to you.
The roasted beef stock
There are not many ingredients going into this soup so the ones that do go in have to be superb – since the base of your soup is the stock it has to be epic.
Now I like to make extra work for myself (or at least that’s what Mr Marmalade, Dave says) so I roast the bones and veg before boiling them. It gives it the extra roasted flavour that will later add another level of depth to your soup.
Now because this takes quite a long time to cook I recommend making loads and reducing it to a high concentration that can be frozen. Later you just head to your freezer for some amazing stock and add a bit of water until it is just right.
Roasted beef stock ingredients:
Your trusty butcher will get you some really nice beef marrow bones. Buy as many kilos as you can fit in your stock pan.
2 peeled carrots for each kg of bones
1/2 peeled onion for each kg of bones
1/4 head of garlic for each kg of bones
1 celery stick for each kg of bones, cut into chunks
1/4 bunch of flat leaf parsley stems for each kg of bones
2 springs of thyme for each kg of bones
1 bay leaf for each kg of bones
1/8 tsp of black peppercorns for each kg of bones
How to cook:
Start by preheating your oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas 6.
Rub a little olive oil over the bones, carrots, celery, garlic and onions, and place in a large, shallow roasting pan. Roast for about 45 minutes, turning everything halfway through the cooking, until the bones are nicely browned.
Tip #1: If the bones begin to char at all during this cooking process, lower the heat. They should brown, not burn.
When the bones are nicely browned, remove them and the vegetables and place them in a large pan. Place the roasting pan on the stove-top on a low heat, pour some hot water in the pan and use a spatula to scrape up all of the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan. Pour the browned bits and water into the stock pot.
Add celery, parsley, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns to the stock pot. Fill the stock pot with cold water, to 2 inches over the top of the bones. Put the heat on high and bring the pot to a low simmer and then reduce the heat to low.
Tip #2: If you have a cooking thermometer, the temperature of the water should be between 90°C and 95°C.
The stock should be at a bare simmer, just a bubble or two coming up here and there. Cover the pot loosely and let simmer low and slow for 3-6 hours.
Tip #3: Do not stir the stock while cooking. Stirring will mix the fats in with the stock and make it cloudy.
As the stock cooks, fat will be released from the bone marrow and will rise to the top. From time to time check the stock and use a large metal spoon to scoop away the fat and any scum that rises to the surface.
Tip #4: Do not put this fat down your kitchen sink. It will solidify and block your pipes. Put it in a bowl or jar to save for cooking or discard.
At the end of cooking time use tongs or a slotted spoon to gently remove the bones and vegetables from the pan and discard them, – though if you see a chunk of marrow, taste it, it’s delicious. Line another large pan with a fine mesh sieve, covered with a couple layers of muslin if you have it. Pour the stock through the sieve to strain it of remaining solids. Let cool to room temperature then chill in the refrigerator.
Tip #5: Once the stock has chilled, any remaining fat will have risen to the top and solidified. The fat forms a protective layer against bacteria while the stock is in the refrigerator. If you plan to freeze the stock, remove and discard the fat, pour the stock into a jar or plastic container.
You can also remove the fat, and boil the stock down, concentrating it so that it doesn’t take as much storage space. Leave an inch head room from the top of the stock to the top of the jar, so that as the stock freezes and expands, it will not break the container.
Caramelised French Onion Soup with a British twist
Now this soup is something else. Serve it as a casual snack at lunchtime or as a starter for your Christmas dinner, it will fit any situation and please most guests.
6 large white onions (about 3 pounds), peeled and sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 teaspoon of caster sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 litres of beef stock
125ml of dry white wine
2 bay leaves
2 tsp of dry thyme or 4 tsp of fresh thyme
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp of brandy (optional)
8 slices of sourdough bread or French baguette
200g of Stilton cheese
How to cook:
Grab a large heavy based pan and heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil on a medium heat. Add the onions and toss to coat with the olive oil.
Cook the onions over a very low heat, stirring often, until they have softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, the butter and cook, stirring often, until the onions start to brown, about 15 more minutes.
Sprinkle with sugar and 1 teaspoon of sea salt and continue to cook until the onions are well browned, about 10 to 15 more minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute more.
Tip #6: The sugar will help to caramelise the onions.
At this point raise the temperature and add the wine to the pan making sure to scrape up the browned bits at the bottom and sides of the pan, deglazing the pan as you go.
Now it’s time for your to add the stock, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and lower the heat to maintain a low simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes. Season to taste with more sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Discard the bay leaves and add brandy if using.
Now it’s time for your toppings. While the soup is simmering, line a baking tray with parchment paper or foil and preheat the oven to 220°C/ 450°F/ Gas 7 with a rack in the upper third of the oven. Brush both sides of the sourdough bread or baguette slices lightly with olive oil. Put it in the oven and toast until lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from oven. Turn the toasts over and sprinkle with the grated Stilton cheese. Return to oven when it’s close to serving time and bake until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.
Tip #7: This is where the British twist comes in. Traditionally the soup is topped with Gruyere cheese but I quite like the sharpness of Stilton so give it a try and see what you like. If you find it too strong go back to the traditional.
To serve, ladle soup into a bowl and transfer one cheesy toast onto the top of each bowl of soup.
Tip #8: Alternatively, you can use individual ovenproof bowls or one large casserole dish. Ladle the soup into the bowls or casserole dish. Cover with the toast and sprinkle with cheese. Put it under the grill for 10 minutes at 180°C / 350° F / Gas 5, or until the cheese bubbles and is slightly browned.