Why friends are like French onion soup
COME FRY WITH ME - Johanna Garcia (The Philippine Star) - September 27, 2017 - 4:00pm

Few things in life are more comfortable and comforting than old friends. Long-time favorite restaurants and dishes come close, though, and when you get to enjoy all three at a time, well, then, you’ve just hit the comfort trifecta.

New York is full of iconic French restaurants: Daniel, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, to name a few, as well as several newer but no less impressive additions. I’ve always had a soft spot for Balthazar, though, a brasserie in SoHo that has managed to stay a local favorite, despite the stiff competition.

Perhaps it’s the appeal of the familiar, consistently comfortable food. Balthazar is not known for trendy cuisine, but rather for the classics: escargot, duck confit, steak frites and the Balthazar salad. I doubt if anything even remotely resembling a foam has ever emerged from their kitchen or a kale leaf strayed into their salads. But, as jam-packed as it invariably is, the chaos that greets you when you walk in is as strangely comforting as the traditional dishes they serve.

French onion soup is a case in point, reminding me of an old but cherished friend that, for whatever reason, you just don’t see as much as you used to. Maybe you’ve become too busy, lactose-intolerant or gone ketogenic. But maybe, like we have with the company we keep, we’ve just gotten more selective.

When I was younger, a thick layer of cheese on the surface was enough to keep me coming around. As I got older, I realized it was all about what was underneath: properly caramelized onions, a deep and complex broth — thick layers of chewy but cheap cheese could no longer disguise any shortcomings in these areas. Speaking of which, I got more selective about the cheese, too. Nothing fake or plastic-y, please, just the high-quality and genuine cheese (preferably Gruyere), that I admit to still laying on a little thick.

Great French onion soup, like great friendships, needs a good base, and that means homemade stock. That’s actually not difficult; in fact, the best ones are pretty effortless. But they do take lots of time, patience and yes, a little heat, to develop that flavor.

So, my advice? Invest in the time and effort needed to renew or make great friendships and great soup. On their own, they’re completely worth it. And together? Well, I can’t think of anything better.

Recipe File

French Onion Soup

(Serves 4)

Soup:

2 tablespoons butter

3 pounds white and/or red onions, sliced thinly

8 cups homemade beef and/or chicken stock

1/4 cup wine, sherry or brandy

Bouquet garni (tie these up in cheesecloth or with string so you can easily fish them out):

4 sprigs parsley

4 sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Crust:

1 baguette, cut into 3/4–inch slices

8 ounces Swiss cheese, sliced thinly or grated

Procedure:

Melt butter in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and salt. Stir to coat thoroughly. Cook, stirring frequently until onions are dark brown and caramelized thoroughly, around 40-45 minutes. Don’t be afraid of the dark crust that develops on your pot, because that’s where much of the flavor comes from.

Add the stock, wine and the bouquet garni, making sure to scrape in all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and bring soup to a simmer.

Simmer soup for 30 minutes, and then fish out the bouquet garni. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and adjust seasoning to taste.

Preheat your broiler. Set your ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet and fill each with soup. Top each bowl with two slices of bread and top with cheese. Broil on the top rack until the cheese is browned and bubbly, around 10 minutes. If you don’t have ovenproof bowls, brown the cheese-topped bread and then place in the waiting soup bowls. Serve immediately.

* * *

For questions, comments and suggestions, email me at Johanna@realgirltoykitchen.com, visit my Web site www.realgirltoykitchen.com or follow me on FB (Real Girl Toy Kitchen)/IG: realgirltoykitchen.

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