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French Onion Soup - Keller recipe

Has anyone tried the Onion Soup recipe from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook? I want to make this soup, but the idea of caramelizing the onions for FIVE HOURS seems excessive. As a budding home chef, I am frequently encountering dogmatic instructions for recipes that involve huge expenses of time, i.e. simmering polenta for three hours, hand-rolling pasta, cooking chicken broth for four hours. Believe me, I am all for going to any length to produce the ultimate dish, but if someone out there has tried the five-hour version vs. a normal 30-minute onion caramelization, I'd love to know your results.

By the way, I tried 20 minute polenta vs. one and a half hours, and the longer one truly was very creamy and delicious. Have not rolled pasta by hand and probably will not do so!!! I've cooked chicken broth in 40 minutes and 4 hours... but am still not sure which is best. So many opinions on broth!

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  1. I am very familiar with the Bouchon FOS, and while I will tell you that the longer caramelization of the onions will make a big difference, I will agree that sometimes one just can't wait that long for soup. Here's what I suggest:

    Place the onions, butter and salt into a heavy stockpot over medium heat as instructed in the original recipe, but place a lid on the pot and allow the onions to cook for about 30 minutes, stirring about ever 10 minutes, until the onions are very soft and have released a lot of liquid. Remove the lid and raise the heat to medium high. Add about 1 tbsp sugar (to initiate carmelization). Cook until almost all of the liquid has been reduced, then stir constantly until you see and smell caramelization beginning. Turn heat to low and stir constantly until onions are a nice deep brown caramel. Be very careful to not burn the onions, and keep some water nearby to arrest caramelization if necessary.

    14 Replies
    1. re: Non Cognomina

      That is very helpful. Thank you, and I will try your approach.

      1. re: jono37

        There was also a pretty neat recipe in the NYT Magazine this week:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/11/mag...

        1. re: melon

          We're having this for dinner tonight -- it's in the oven right now, and smells wonderful!

          1. re: pikawicca

            What did you think of this? It sounds amazing.

            1. re: c oliver

              We loved it! I'd forgotten all about it. I'll have to make this again when the weather cools off.

              1. re: pikawicca

                OMG, I hadn't noticed how old this was!!! Something else I dislike about the new release. Latest topics aren't new. Do you used canned tomatoes or canned tomato puree? It's never too warm here for this kind of dish.

                1. re: c oliver

                  If memory serves (and it might not, you know), I used the puree.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    Well, you're younger than I am, so I'm gonna trust you. I read the recipe to Bob and he was laughing about how good it sounds.

          2. re: melon

            We made this last night and it was very good. Different from our normal FOS. The tomato puree gives the "soup" a little bit of a sweet taste. Recipe is a keeper.

            1. re: Pampatz

              That looks fantastic -- did you puree your own tomatoes? Any modifications you'd suggest? I think I'll try that tomorrow night. I've made Giada's French Onion Soup -- quick and very, very easy. But I was bored the second time I made it, so I'd like to try this one from the NYT magazine... well, from 1907, right?! I can't wait to serve this one -- "thick golden crust" sounds amazing!

        2. re: Non Cognomina

          Does anyone know how much stock to use for this recipe? In his book, TK just lists "beef stock" ... the recipe he gives makes 3.5 quarts-- does this mean to use the entire 3.5 quarts and then reduce? If anyone knows for sure please let me know. Thanks!

          1. re: agavesupreme

            I am wondering this myself, does anyone know?

            1. re: agavesupreme

              Wow, I never even noticed that. I would assume 6-8 cups like most of the other soup recipes in the book.

            2. re: Non Cognomina

              Five hours is a long time. the Cooks Illustrated version, where you carmilize in the oven three or four times. comes out great. Thomas Kelller has so much labor out there and charges so much, he can take that long.

            3. Is the issue the elapsed time or having to watch it?

              I used the oven method mentioned on this board in the past -- it does take 2+ hours but it's in the oven, so I just do other stuff while waiting. The longer carmelization does make a difference, IMHO.

                1. Last time I made onion soup, I carmelized the onions for 1 hour. It was fabulous. Maybe 1 hour is a happy compromise?

                  1. I would trust that Thomas Keller has a particular goal in mind when giving the instructions. He is not just giving the instructions for "an onion soup", but is giving the instructions for the soup as it is made at Bouchoun. He has a reputation of being exacting for particular results and his books have good reputations.

                    I'd say for "an onion soup" to go ahead and caramelize the onions for any amount of time that you like. That said, I really doubt that you can get a decent carmelization on a large pile of onions in 30 minutes. I just did 3 jumbo onions yesterday and it took 30 minutes just to the point where they were hot and finishing throwing off the liquid. I guess I cooked them 2-1/2 hours in all. I could have gone longer but I wanted to get dinner on. Does the Keller recipe call for 8 large onions? And doesn't he explain at all why the long caramelization?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: coconutz

                      I haven't had a chance to look back at the recipe, but I'm guessing that Keller is trying to encourage very, very slow caramelization to bring out of the maximum flavor, and promote the most even caramelization. Perhaps one could consider the Keller recipe more suitable for a restaurant, given the long prep time and the quantity of ingredient being prepared. I'm fairly ambitious with my home cooking, but have too many time constraints to indulge in some of the longer and more labor intensive recipes which I come across. I do love french onion soup, though, and will definitely be trying the slow cooker method tonight. I'll report back!!

                      1. re: jono37

                        One question on slow cooker onion caramelization: Has anyone succeeded in getting the onions nice and dry after they are cooked so they could be used in salads or on pizza? After draining in a colander, what would be the best way to dry them? Under the broiler? Roasted in the oven? Toasted in a skillet?

                        1. re: jono37

                          Are you trying to get them crispy, or just dry them out?

                          1. re: Non Cognomina

                            I'd settle for drying them, but crispy would be nice too

                            1. re: jono37

                              I would suggest a few things. First, do the caramelization without fat (butter). To dry them out, spread them over several layers of paper towels after they are cooled. Change the paper towels if necessary to absorb as much moisture as possible. They'll get fairly dry, but not crisp.

                              For really a really crispy result, dry the caramelized onions as described above. Toss with a very little bit of cornstarch, then deep fry them. They will fry quickly--you only need a few seconds (10-20). Drain on a rack. Delish.