French Onion Soup, Lentil Soup & Meat Stock

22 Dec

French Onion Soup
This was loosely adapted from a recipe on Tasting Table from John Mooney- chef at Bell Book & Candle  in the West Village- for an Irish-American riff on French Onion Soup. I made some changes– which all worked out surprisingly well– so see notes.  And holy moly– this stuff is delicious. Last time I was in Paris, I searched everywhere for some- with no luck. So a few weeks after I got back- and after an unsatisfying bowl at different w. village restaurant, I said fuck it- I’ll just make it myself. And by the way, what’s more comforting than soup+bread+mounds of melted cheese?

Note on stock: So instead of beef broth, this recipe uses mushroom stock, made w. 1 quart of water and 6 oz dried shiitake mushrooms. As the mushrooms cost $3.50 an ounce, I did not want to buy six. As I had homemade meat broth in the freezer, I thought maybe I would enrich beef broth with one ounce of dried mushrooms. Wow, this worked fabulously. This gave so much extra flavor to the broth– I most highly recommend. But if you don’t have beef broth in the fridge– I think you would be best served by enriching veg stock or maybe even chicken stock w. dried shiitake mushrooms. Or if you would rather just use water– I would use 2 oz shiitake mushrooms. Also- original recipe only used 1 quart water- but all that work for like 2 bowls of soup seemed cray cray. So I doubled and used 2 quarts of stock. But I have to say, in the end, I could have still used like a little extra broth, so I am recommending 3 quarts. Another adjustment– I added the rehydrated mushrooms from stock into the soup. Why throw them out— and they add like a great meaty texture to this potentially vegetarian soup.
Notes on cheese: The TastingTable recipe–  is also Irish in that at the w. Village restaurant they use some rare smoked cheddar. But since this is hard to find- they say you can sub half gruyere and half smoked provolone. Now, they had smoked cheddar at the co-op, but honestly that didn’t sound that appealing. So I went 3/4 gruyere and 1/4 smoked mozzarella. While I think the smoked mozz adds a fabulous note- I know some have an aversion to smokey cheese- so if you don’t like- i say forget it- and go all gruyere.
Notes on the serving vessel: Ok we all want those classic brown french onion soup bowls– with the melted cheese sealing the edges, making a nice cap around the rim. But honestly, who has those? I actually delayed making this for a long time because I was concerned I didn’t have the right bowl- well pish-posh. You can use anything. Though should be broiler safe (sometimes it says so on the bottom). First, I used a small ramekin so I could cover the edges like w. the brown bowl. It worked Ok. But for leftovers I used an oversized bowl- so instead it is like layers– soup, the bread layer, then cheese. The layer can expand across the whole surface area of the bowl– but it doesn’t need to be at the height of the brim- if you catch my drift. And it actually worked way better to get that lovely brown bubbly affect to have it a bit lower. Because the bread has enough room to be like a barrier between the broth and the cheese. Does that make sense or have I gone to far? Also- last night I came across one of those giant mugs in my cabinet- and I think that would have worked well too.

1 oz dried shiitake mushrooms
3 quarts stock or water. I used homemade meat broth. Note above. Recipe below.
5 white onions, thinly sliced, I did in rings (didn’t have white so used yellow onions)
3 red onions, thinly sliced
Cheese- see notes. You want like one block per kind– each bowl gets a pretty big heap of cheese to cover the surface area
1 boule (round loaf) sourdough, cut into thick slices, toast to dry out a bit
butter
canola oil
salt
sugar

In a large stockpot, heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tsp butter. Add yellow/white onions. And cook. After 10 minutes add 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar.
In a separate large skillet, do the same w. the red onions.
Now- the recipe says it takes 30 minutes to caramelize them. Perhaps I cooked them too low– because mine took an hour and a half. Oops. So while I did low heat- I would recommend you to do medium-low. And try not to stir them around too frequently, because then they don’t brown as easily.  If they start to stick, can add a bit of the stock to loosen them up. You want to make sure you cook them until they have that rich caramel color.
Meanwhile, bring stock or water to a boil. Then turn off heat and add dried mushrooms. You can put a plate or lid on the mushrooms to keep them submerged. I couldn’t quite manage this- and it was fine. Let soak for 30 minutes. When done, take out mushrooms. Chop them and set aside. Run your stock through a coffee filter to get out mushroom grit. Set aside.
When onions are done, combine red and yellow, add mushrooms and stock to the stockpot. Bring to a simmer, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Now– recipe says, preheat to 500. Then of course, ladle soup in a bowl- don’t go too high on the soup level. Then add a thick slice (or two) of toasted bread in a single layer. Cover w. a mound of shredded cheese. I tried baking at 500 for 4-7 mins as directed. This worked OK and especially good if you are not sure if your bowl can handle the broiler.  But I found it more efficient- and better bubble effect on the cheese- to heat/reheat soup separately– then add bread and cheese and pop in the broiler for 2-3 minutes– watch closely! Until cheese just starts to brown and bubble.

Lentil Soup– a Marcella Hazan recipe (Sorry no picture. I was like so hungry when I was making this and deliriously sick– so all my pictures were shitty- and I just couldn’t bother to get it right- but the Soup is great! I have tried other lentil soup recipes before– and this is definitely the best one I’ve come across– and of course, we can always rely on Marcella)

2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped carrot
1/3 cup shredded pancetta, proscuitto, or unsmoked ham
1 cup canned Italian tomatoes, cut up with their juice
1/2 pound dried lentils, washed and drained. I used dark green french lentils
4 cups meat broth or 1 cup canned beef both mixed w. 3 cups water (might need an extra cup of broth/water- lentils absorb a lot)
salt
freshly ground pepper, 4 to 6 twists of the mill
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Put onion in stockpot with oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter and saute over med-high heat until light and golden brown
Add celery and carrot and continue sauteing for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring from time to time
Add pancetta and saute for 1 more minute
Add the cut up tomatoes and their juice, and adjust the heat so that they cook at a gentle simmer for 25 minutes, uncovered. Stir from time to time with a wooden spoon.
Add the lentils, stirring and turning them two or three times, and then add the broth, salt (easy on salt if using canned broth), and pepper. Cover and cook, at a steady simmer, until the lentils are tender. (Cooking time is about 45 minutes, but it varies greatly from lentils to lentils, so that the only reliable method is to taste them. Not too, that some lentils absorb a surprising amount of liquid. If this happens add more homemade broth or water to keep the soup from getting too thick.)
When the lentils are cooked, correct for salt, then off heat, swirl in the remaining butter and the grated cheese. Serve w. additional freshly grated cheese on the side.

Meat Stock- recipe from The Silver Spoon. These things overwhelm me because there are like 100 different recipes– w. conflicting amount of meat, bones etc. But I think what is more important is– as this recipe says– the key is to cook low and slow– for a long ass time.
1 3/4 pounds lean beef, cut into cubes
1 pound 5 oz veal, cut into cubes (because I am cheap, i think i skimped a little bit on the amounts- but worked fine)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 leek, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
salt

I used the “soup sock” but not totally necessary- just makes the straining easier. Place meat in a large pan, add cold water to cover and bring to a boil, bearing in mind that slow cooking and gentle simmering are essential for a successful stock. Skin off any scum that arises to the surface and add all the vegs and season w. salt. [I always end up filling the whole pot w. water, and topping off as some boils off– because if you are going to bother making stock, might as well make a lot.) Lower heat and simmer for about 3 1/2 hours. Remove from heat. Strain into a bowl. Let cool. Chill in a fridge. When fat has solidified on the surface, carefully remove and discard. This stock can be used to soups, risottos and making gravy.

Let me also add for all stocks– best to make the night before you want to use it. Because when you chill overnight- it is much easier to skim off the fat. You can use it same day– but it is just greasier and harder to get the fat off the top.

Chicken Stock— Just in case you all are curious if stocks really need 3-4 hours. Others may disagree, but I say yes. I tried a quicker chicken stock this wknd- an America’s Test Kitchen recipe. It tasted fine– but it was more of a pain in the ass-  b/c you had to sever chicken wings, which is tricky w. out a meat cleaver- instead of just plopping in a whole chicken. Was also greasier because the wings have fattier ratios. So I say, stick with the slow stuff.

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