Lockdown lunches: how to make French onion soup
The FT's Daniel Garrahan was supposed to be in Paris for his wife's 40th birthday but the coronavirus lockdown has left him dreaming of sitting in a bistro, eating French onion soup. In the fifth instalment of the FT's lockdown cooking series, food writer Tim Hayward shows him how to recreate the famous dish at home.
Filmed by Lauren Juliff and Liberty Wright. Produced by Daniel Garrahan and Tim Hayward. Edited by Daniel Garrahan
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I can't work with people like this.
This is it, Tim. Thank you.
My wife and I was supposed to be in Paris for her 40th birthday as we speak. One of the things I was most looking forward to was sitting in a bistro and eating a bowl of French onion soup.
This was a real challenge for me. Because I love French onion soup with all my heart, but the point of French onion soup is meat stock, and you're a vege. Some of the things you have in a French bistro, most of the classic recipes you have are in some way combined with the other elements of how a bistro runs. And the French onion soup was the best way of using the fantastic stock that you made from the leftover chicken bones, beef ribs.
That's why it tastes so good.
I had to do a lot of thinking about how to make a really good, rich, clear, dark stock to make the root for your onion soup. So we're going to start this one with a vege stock. When you cook garlic down, it stops being garlicky and it becomes really rich and umami.
We got our onions. We only got three.
A dead bit of spring onion. Two floppy, dirty parsnips. A leek that's really losing its erection. A celery.
I got one carrot. This one's OK.
I've got carrots, celery, and I've got turnip, randomly.
So grab your turnip.
Mushrooms are a good umami flavour. Grab a peeler.
It's a much unloved vegetable, isn't it, a turnip?
It really is. So I've saved the carrot peelings. You don't save the turnip peelings. They won't be so good.
I'm going to peel parsnips, but not save the parsnip peelings. Chunk the carrots up.
So all these years I've been eating French onion soup, and of course, it tastes so good. I've been eating it with meat stock. Of course I have.
Well, France is the sort of country when you tell them that you're a vegetarian and they say, oh, OK, I'll bring you some chicken. I don't eat chicken. Oh, I'll bring you some fish. No, sorry.
I tend to just end up eating a lot of cheese when I go there and bread. Which you know, could be worse.
Chunks go in your roasting tray. Peelings into the stock pot.
I've got two manky shallots. Leave the skin on and put them in the roasting tray. Tops and tails off all your onions and the peel into the stock pot.
So a lot of stuff that you wouldn't normally eat. Not looking that appetising so far, is it?
Garlic, bottom into your roasting tray. Chunks of celery into the roasting tray. With the leek, the dried up leaves are going to go into the stock pot and the root part into your roasting tray.
I forgot to chop the mushrooms.
Put them in the roasting tray. A pinch of thyme into the roasting tin.
Oh... I just put in the wrong one. Luckily, it landed into an onion peel.
OK. You got some Marmite?
Marmite is obviously one of those things that people have been stockpiling.
Put a shot of dark soy sauce in place of the Marmite into the roasting tin. That will help.
Tablespoon full of fresh mustard in there as well then. I'm going to sprinkle on some mustard powder.
Vegetable bullion powder. So a heaped teaspoon full of that, sprinkle over the top. Pepper and salt. Give them a big glug of oil. Mix all that stuff through.
Oh man, I haven't been this messy since I changed my camera person's nappies last.
Put it into a hot oven, about 180 maybe. Check it in 10 minutes. Shuggle it about, and then give it another 10 minutes.
Well, there's all sorts of interesting things happening in here.
That's absolutely perfect. The vegetables into the stock pot. We're going to pour a shot of boiling water into the bottom of this. And then use the spoon to scrape every last bit of the black gunge off and dissolve it into the water.
Oh, that's beautiful. It is so valuable.
The gunge is valuable. Why is that? It's concentrated flavour in there.
And it's all the burnt caramelised sugars and flavourings from the outside of the vegetables and the vegetable sauce - the vegetable juices that have leaked out. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing.
So you pour all of that into your stock pot.
How clean should the roasting tray be looking? Because there's quite a lot of this stuff on there.
If it's not perfectly clean, your fired from the kitchen, put in that way. Top up the stock with cold water until the vegetables are covered.
You want this to almost bubble. Almost simmer, but just below simmer for probably about an hour.
You put a large dollop of butter on the bottom of your pan. Grab your piece of grease proof. Fold it in half. Fold it in quarters. In eighths. In sixteenths.
No. Watch again. Half, quarter, eighths, sixteenths.
Is it like that?
You got like the nose of the paper plate at one end.
Do that again.
You take the lid of the pan. Use the point to measure the radius of the pan, like that. Cut off the circumference, and then snip off the tip. Now open it up.
And it was so easy as well.
The idea at this stage is just to get them soft and broken down. So I'm starting get a tiny bit of brown.
Now, this is the exciting bit. You know your bit of paper? That's called a cartouche. Put it on top of the onions, and then put the lid back on.
Leave them on the low light, and you go back every sort of five minutes or so, give them a stir. Lift the paper, give them a stir. Paper back, top back on.
So let's put it through a sieve. Mash it with the back of the spoon a little bit.
Got a great colour.
That's going to need salt. You could use soy instead of salt. The whole of this process now is just tasting, testing, tasting, testing.
I'm going to hit mine up with a touch of Worcester sauce, because that never goes wrong. Some MSG. Some Ajinomoto, Japanese flavour powder. But this stuff is the extract of seaweed.
It's a bit like George's Marvellous Medicine this, isn't it?
What can we put in next?
Most things benefit from a very small shot of vinegar or lemon juice.
Lid off. Take the cartouche off as well. Turn the heat up a little bit more this time. Dry some of that liquid off.
Drop the heat quite low, and puts in a level tablespoon full of flour. This will help the whole soup just thicken really beautifully.
Do you have any brandy?
It's been sat in my cupboard for as long as I can remember.
Turn the heat up a bit under your onions. Put in a fair-sized shot of brandy. Don't let it stick to the bottom. Stop it doing so by pouring in some of the vegetable stock. Then you stir it so it all combines.
Oh yes. That is good. It's got a real depth already.
A little pinch of dried thyme into it. I'm putting a sprig of fresh thyme in mine. You've got more stock, pour it in.
Bowl to serve your soup in. And it needs to be oven proof.
Now, have you ever seen...
...a bowl better suited to onion soup than that?
I don't think it's ever been used before.
Now a crouton to go on the surface.
Can you make a crouton out of a bagel? That's the only bready product that we've got left.
Christ. I - I can't work with people like this.
Cut it into three sections. No, not like that! You'll bloody chop your fingers off.
One of the most highly reported domestic accidents in Manhattan is bagel hand.
I'm going to use a slice of bread. Chuck that in the toaster for a minute or so. Grate yourself a nice big mound of Gruyere. Make sure there's plenty of onion in there.
I have to say, this smells like the real deal.
Crouton onto the top of your soup. Then put a load of cheese on top of that. Under the grill.
If you were a real pro, you do this. You blow lamp the top. There we go.
There's your money shot.
Nice. Can you see that OK?
Yeah. That is great.
This is sizzling. I can see it sizzling.
Just blow on it.
Oh. It's superb.
Would you be able to tell that it was a vegetarian version? Is it lacking in depth?
No. I can't tell you how pleased I am with this now. Would never have thought you could do a veggie version.
That is the real thing. This, to me, is just fantastic. This is taking me to Paris where I should have been this week.
Mmmm. This is it, Tim. Thank you.