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Making French Onion Soup

As you know by now, I'm a little obsessed with my "Cooks Illustrated" magazine, having now made three of the recipes exactly how they are written. I never quite understand it, while reading recipe reviews online, when people claim a recipe is wonderful although they substituted half the ingredients using what they had in their cupboards.

So, I decided to try the French Onion Soup recipe because I love that soup, and pretty much only have it at a restaurant. And now I know's a fair amount of work to make it right! First off, of course I needed onions, buying three giant Vidalia onions without thoroughly reading the instructions. Not the best choice, although it sure would have been simpler to peel and slice them rather than the three pounds of yellow onions called for. Seriously, it never occurred to me how not fun that task would be. Normally I don't need my reading glasses to slice and dice, however, they stayed on my face, only slightly helping to keep my eyes from watering!

Whew! Onions sliced and placed in Bruce's Mom's old cast iron dutch oven.
Although there are two full pages of text, I'll try and condense it to the basics which are these:

  • Oil pan and mostly fill with the onion slices. Apparently cutting them pole to pole is key.
  • Cover pan and place in oven at 400 degrees for one hour.
  • Stir and replace lid slightly ajar for steam to escape.
Let's just stop there for a moment. During phase one of the oven cooking, I went for a little swim time. Coming into the house I said something like, "man does this house smell like onions!", to which Bruce replied, "yes it does, and it is burning my eyes like nobodies business!" He claimed it was so bad he could hardly work. Well, that was a problem because with more than an hour left of cooking time, what's a cook to do? Close off the sunroom, and open the back door for starters. That helped a little bit, but only a little. I found some air freshener under the sink with claims of neutralizing odors plastered on the front. For once, the claims proved to be true.

Following the second hour plus of oven cooking time, the stove got the next workout. Yup, another 15 minutes of cooking and stirring, followed by deglazing with water not once, not twice, but three times. Here's how they looked after the oven cooking:
After three deglazing operations:
Dark enough for you? Isn't it astonishing how so many, many onions turns into this? If three deglazing with water wasn't enough, I added a half cup of sherry to cook down before finally adding the broth. While at Publix I went into the liquor store to buy the sherry and thought, do I really want to spend $7 for the bottle? I called Angela to see if she had some with no success. Remember what I said earlier about substitutions? Eventually I figured out to just do it, there must be more recipes that call for sherry out there to put it to use.

Finally, after another hour or so, the soup was ready for the bread and cheese part,
which for some reason I neglected to photograph. While the soup was on the stove, I toasted slices of french bread in the oven and grated the Gruyere cheese, both of which topped the soup and went under the broiler. I began the peeling and slicing at 1:30 in the afternoon and it was pretty much 7:00 before we ate. How did it taste you ask? Delicious, really delicious.

I learned a few things in the process. This way of carmelizing onions is terrific in spite of the odor. That's the first thing I learned, and the second thing is that it is more work than I suspected! Isn't that the way excellent outcome is more often than not the result of working hard? Occasionally things come easy, but in the end, hard work is usually rewarded. In this case, hard work may be a slight exaggeration, however,  I'm here to tell you peeling all those onions was no walk in the park!
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