If a man cannot or will not cook, he is not a man. All REAL men – manly men, if you will – know how to cook, and by cook I don’t mean scurry around a studio kitchen yelling “BAM!” and cooking stuff most ordinary chefs don’t cook, like that wretched little Emeril does on his stupid Food Network show. Honestly…what kind of serious chef has his own studio band, complete with an African-American Doc Severinsen? I learned to cook because my mother – God rest her soul – was a superb cook. When I moved out and lived on my own, I had no choice but to teach myself the arcane ways of the kitchen. And now I happily pass what I have learned along to you, gentle reader.
Think of it as nourriture de confort pour la paysannerie française (comfort food for French peasants): the humble onion – coupled with beef broth, stale bread and a little bit of cheese – was once a staple of the poor man’s kitchen. Onions, after all, were cheap and plentiful. Beef broth, easily made from scraps and bones, was also plentiful. Stale bread? Goes without saying. As for the cheese, even the peasantry enjoyed this lactate luxury.
So why is a dish that is comprised almost entirely of onions so delectable as to become a common component of everyday American cuisine? The secret lies primarily in the manner in which the onions are cooked before the soup is even assembled: saute them in butter under low heat to caramelize the sugar and cook off the pungent enzymes that make our eyes water.
Before we begin, make sure you have at least 4 soup crocks. You can purchase them at home goods stores or get them on-line.
Now let’s make some soup.
8 large sweet onions (roughly 6 lbs)
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
2 cups white wine
20 oz. canned beef consume
10 oz. unfiltered apple cider
Bouquet garni of thyme sprigs, sage leaves and bay leaf tied together with kitchen twine
1 loaf Texas toast-style bread
Ground black pepper
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
Peel onions and cut in half lengthwise. Finely slice into half moon shapes by cutting perpendicular to the width of the onion half.
Place a large soup pot on a low flame and add the butter. After the butter has melted, add the onions and salt. Carefully stir to distribute the butter and then stir occasionally for an hour until onions are dark brown and reduced to approximately 2 cups. Make sure to stir occasionally to keep the onions from burning.
Add the wine to cover the onions and turn heat to high. Stir constantly until the wine reduces to a syrupy consistency and then add the consomme, apple cider and bouquet garni. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
During the simmering time, cut the Texas toast in rounds large enough to fit into the soup crocks. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and place under broiler for 1 minute.
Season soup mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bouquet garni and ladle the soup into crocks, leaving one inch between the surface of the soup and the top edge of the crock. Place the bread round with the toasted side down on top of the soup and then sprinkle a generous helping of the cheese on top of the bread.
Broil for a couple of minutes until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.