Friday, May 27, 2011

A Watched Onion Never Browns

I have big plans for this weekend. My friend, Hilary, is so good that she a) braved a trip to Paris with me in 2009 while I was six months pregnant and allowed me to organize our sightseeing around my "must eat" list of patisseries and chocolatiers (I overcompensated for my wine and soft cheese deprivation by eating every sweet in sight) and b) is flying from DC tomorrow to visit us here in middle-of-nowhere Texas for the long weekend. HOORAY!

I've been mulling over the idea, now that I'm in my last stretch with Around My French Table, that I should prepare a proper farewell feast, made up of the foods that I think of when I think of France: French Onion Soup, Cheese Souffle, and Chocolate Mousse. It would be a pity to move on from Dorie's book without attempting these classic dishes. Hilary's arrival provides all the excuse that I need. Because the soup keeps for a few days, I figured I could make that yesterday, to free up some time this weekend. I also figured that I'd have a bowl immediately and report on it. That didn't really work out. Boy, am I glad I didn't wait until the day of the bonanza to make this.

Dorie warns that the onions take a long time to cook down and brown. She's not fooling. Holy Mother. She says it might take an hour for 4-5 giant onions to brown on your stove's lowest setting, and warns against turning up the heat to try and speed it along.
I only used three onions, because I wasn't sure more could fit in the pot.
The instructions say that if you burn it, you'll ruin it, but if you don't brown them enough, your soup will have no flavor or color. No pressure, though.
Still waiting...two hours later.
 After two hours, I still only had limp, still-white onion bathing in a pool of its own juices, so I upped the heat to medium from medium-low. These onions took THREE HOURS to caramelize.
Almost there.
 I started cooking at noon, and thought I'd have lunch by 130 or so, factoring in Dorie's hour for the onions, then 30 minutes for them to cook in the broth and wine. The soup wasn't ready until 330. By then, I'd eaten my weight in oatmeal raisin cookies, and had to start getting dinner ready. I don't care if a dish takes that long to cook, but I want to know about it before I get started. It messed around with my whole afternoon. On the plus side, the three hours was largely unattended. You just need to stir now and then, stare at a clock, and wonder why on earth it's taking so long.

In a fit of psychosis, I started chopping veg and mixing spices for tomorrow's dinner, totally forgetting about the salmon I had in the fridge for tonight. The salmon needed to be used, so after cursing at top-volume for a good five minutes, I collected myself, wrapped up my vegetables, and moved on. It was very annoying, though.

I tasted the soup, and it was good, but I won't comment further upon it until I eat a bowl, prepared as instructed (brandy in the bottom, toast and cheese on top). It is Charlie-approved, though. He drank a cup of the broth with his dinner. Then, when I got overzealous and gave him a second cup, he discovered that the soup is also handy when used as a refreshing shower (it wasn't hot).


  1. ACK! I did French onion soup last night for dinner following Julia Child's recipe and she says to start on low heat for fifteen minute and then bring it up to moderate for an extra 30-40 minutes. I get impatient making dark roux and totally relate to your frustration.

  2. Thanks for the warning about the long caramelizing time. I'll definitely have to make this on a weekend day where I have nothing else planned. Great post!

  3. I love French Onion soup, but you're right, the last time I made this, it took over 2 hrs to get the onions to the right state. Definitely a weekend dish but yours sounds fantastic and I'm sure it will taste great with the cheese, brandy et al :).

  4. Browning onions for 3 hours sounds "off" to me too, and seems like it would also make them so soft that they would just fall apart.
    Anyway here's my 2 cents on this topic- first, onions for onion soup must be sliced as thinly as possible- refrigerated onions that are frozen for 10 mins will make the task easier. The type of onion you use should be a plain yellow cooking onion- giant vidalia or white onions have too much water in them to brown properly. After about 20 mins or so, I would add a small bit of brown sugar to the flour/butter to hasten the browning process along, and add deeper flavor. In my experience carmelized onions don't need more than 1 HR. Judging by your picture, it is hard to tell the size of your pot, but you def. need at least a 6 quart heavy stockpot - smaller than that would explain the long cooking time you experienced. Another time saving trick is to just cook onions in a larger, wider, heavy saute pan so they can be more evenly and thinly spread out, then scrape and transfer everything to the stock pot.