Friday, 5 October 2012

French onion soup

It’s getting chilly and so to soups, stews and pot roasts we return. Every week one of our Askew Road butchers, Tom, drives to Rungis market just outside of Paris to select French poultry and Limousin veal for our shops. A trained chef, his head is often turned by outstanding fresh produce too, and this week he returned with nets of new season Roscoff onions.; slightly pink and beautifully sweet, just the ticket for French onion soup.

On the surface this is a very simple dish, but it only really shines with a boldly rich stock, sweet, slow-caramelised onions and lots of patience. We like to mix in dry white wine with and a pleasantly-hoppy-but-not-too-strong Indian Pale Ale, the latter giving the soup a bit of bite and marrying well with the savoury Comté toasts. If you don’t particularly like the hoppy (slightly bitter) flavour of an IPA, replace it with more beef stock – which has to be the real deal, no cubes here please.

Serves four for lunch or as a robust starter

750g Roscoff onions, peeled
65g beef dripping or butter
500ml proper beef stock
200ml lightish IPA (nothing too gutsy)
200ml dry white wine
100ml water
Sea salt and black pepper

To assemble

4 sliced of baguette, around 2cm thick
120g Comté, grated
A little butter

1.     Firstly, get ready to cry: although these onions have a beautifully sweet flavour, they still have a sting in their raw state, and you’ve got a lot of chopping to do. Cut each onion in half, and slice across the width of the onion to make lots of very fine semi circles, around 1-2mm wide. This gives you lots of surface area to get good caramelisation.

2.     Put a large, wide saucepan or stockpot over a low heat and slowly melt the butter.

3.     Add the onions and a few good pinches of sea salt, stir well and let them gently cook, stirring every 5-8 minutes or so.

4.     After half an hour, the onions should be quite soft but still fairly white; turn the heat up just a little, watching the onions don’t burn or colour too quickly – you’ve still got about another hour of slow caramelisation to go so grab a book and a beer and keep stirring occasionally, scrubbing at the base of the pan with a wooden spoon to release any sticky bits.

5.     When the onions have a very soft, sticky and almost jam-like consistency and a deep golden brown colour, add the remaining ingredients, and healthy pinch of salt, a few twists of pepper and simmer gently for 45 minutes. After simmering, taste and add salt and pepper to taste - remember that the Comte will add a good umami kick to the finished dish.

6.     To assemble, lightly toast the baguette slices, just enough to dry them out a little.  Spread a very small amount of butter on both sides. Ladle the soup between four heatproof bowls, and add a baguette slice to each one (if you like the bread really soft, turn the slice over so that both sides have been in contact with the soup). Cover liberally with the grated Comté, and place under a hot grill for a few minutes to melt the cheese. Serve immediately, and be careful not to burn your fingers.

You'll be able to buy some of the ingredients from us this weekend, but because some of our shops are near fantastic cheesemongers or greengrocers, not everything will be everywhere. 

Hackney: Comté, stock and onions
Askew Road: Comté, stock and onions
Moxon street: stock and onions
Borough Market: stock

Bon Appétit!