French Onion Soup

This one is a little late – after leaving Leuven I spent a week at a conference in Antwerp and didn’t have time to write my last meal up, but it turned out so well I didn’t want to leave it out.

On my final morning visiting Sebastian we were sitting out in one of the beautiful old Leuven streets having coffee and hot chocolate I told him I had one request regarding dinner and that was: no more pasta! Somehow, the ensuing discussion resulted in my being nominated chef for the evening, so I then had the challenge of thinking something up that would both be very impressive and not include pasta (ironically if I want to make something that is really delicious, but not difficult, I always go for pasta as well). I had made a rather successful french onion soup six months ago, but as my original recipe is in New York I had to reconstruct it as best I could.

First I halved twelve onions and thinly sliced them. (The onions I was using were a bit soft, which was a bit of shame, and made them harder to slice thinly.)

Then I fried them up with around 60 grams of butter (in fact, I kept adding little bits more, though that wasn’t really necessary). Shopping in a country where you don’t speak the language is sometimes a challenge, so I just went for the butter that had the coolest packaging:

Now, the first time I made this the onions were very fresh and as I started to cook their ‘milk’ began to come out of them and so the cooking became more like boiling. If this happens to you, remove the milk and put it to one side (when the stock is added you can also pour it back in). What I ended up doing was actually frying the onions in a large frying pan and then returning them to the put when they were wonderfully caramelized – this ended up being the most amazing onion soup I had ever had. When I made it the other day, though, I did not have that problem so did not think to transfer the onions to a separate frying pan once they had softened and reduced a little in the pot. I did cook them for 20 or so minutes until they were soft, then added three teaspoons of white sugar and turning up the heat a little so they began to brown (stirring all the time to make sure they didn’t burn). My onions had difficulty browning, but this makes such a difference to the taste so it is worth working on getting them really browny and caramelized (you might want to see how I did it with the Brussels Sprouts and Caramelized Onion Soup I made a couple of months ago).

Another thing I didn’t do (but you should) is add a desert spoon of plain flour and mix it into the browned onions, stirring and leaving on the heat for just a few minutes. Next I added four cups of vegetable stock, three table spoon of cooking sherry (this is the secret ingredient – it really adds so much to the flavour), a table spoon of thyme (maybe a little less), and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Then I left to simmer for 10 minutes.

While I left the soup to simmer, I sliced up some baguette and toasted it under the grill. I also grated around 100 grams of Gruyère (this is such a wonderfully rich cheese that, even though I usually tend towards ‘the more, the better’ when it comes to cheese, you don’t have to have a mountain of it to have the very strong cheese flavour).

When the soup is done, you just put it in bowls, place one or two pieces of baguette on top, sprinkle with the cheese and place under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and slightly browned in places (we weren’t able to fit our bowls under the grill, so we had to make do with grilling some cheese on top of the bread before adding it to the bowls).

This soup is so delicious, but also so rich, that Seb and I were both completely knocked out after eating way too much of it. You should also be warned that it will be very hot – that is just the way with French Onion Soup. Finally, while we ate right away, it keeps quite well and is actually better for sitting a day or half a day and then just being reheated.

For desert I went to one of the many local chocolate shops and bought a selection of fresh Belgian chocolates, which were nothing short of amazing. Life is grand sometimes…

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