You can learn a lot about someone's cooking habits by the way they prepare onions. Onions are of the most essential ingredients in cuisines around the globe and can impart such great flavor into an array of recipes. Onions require determination as well as patience to maximize their true potential.
Right from the start, onions can bring forth a challenge. Ever try peeling onions, especially pearl or shallots without cutting them in half? Removing the skin from an onion can be a tedious task for many and the smaller they get, the more difficult they can be. But, once you've slogged through that process, you still have an uphill battle ahead of you.
Cutting onions may be one of the most undesirable kitchen tasks that has prompted a line of zany products to help minimize the tears that occurs during the process. I remember working as a prep cook in high school and having to slice 25 pounds or more of onions at a time. I could only handle so much before racing outside just to get some fresh air on my face and to ease the pain that those pesky alliums were delivering. My boss Dave would offer his guidance and suggest I put a piece of bread in my mouth while slicing. I think he was just looking for a laugh as he offered his suggestion, which thankfully, I never actually tried out.
Nowadays, you can find onion goggles in kitchen supply stores, which, if you need one thing to help, is likely the best option. But, nothing can beat a sharp knife and a good clean slice through the onion, which will minimize the juices from flowing up towards your face. That being said, I feel people need to experience the pros and cons of an ingredient to really understand them. For example, I never wear gloves while harvesting stinging nettles. While most cover up as much of their body as possible, I simply get in there and pick away. The results are invigorating to say the least! But, I get in there an experience nettle for all it has to offer.
With onions, the more you cook them the sweeter they get. So, maybe the intense start is only to to see if you have the perseverance to make it to the end. Think about it!
I cook all my soups at home in a 5.5 quart Le Crueset Dutch oven. It makes the perfect amount of soup with enough for lunch the next day. I cut enough onions to pretty much fill the pot to the top. Don't worry, they'll cook down! The key to a good onion soup is to take the time to really cook down the onions and allow that sweetness to come out. This effort will carry through to the end and really help create a great soup.
The recipe below is based off of the classic French Onion Soup that traditionally utilizes caramelized onion, sherry or brandy, and meat stock. To this base I often add some root vegetables, add ground mushrooms for flavor, bay leaf, and a big scoop of homemade Verdurette which you can learn about here. Rather than finishing with cheese and bread, I add some miso and Nama shoyu for a extra touch of umami and salt.
"Maine" Onion Soup
- 2 tablespoons rendered lard or ghee
- 3-4 pounds of onions, peeled, split in half, sliced thin
- 4 ounces brandy or sherry
- 3 quarts beef or chicken stock, or water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon dried mushroom powder
- 2 large root vegetables, diced small (parsnip, rutabaga, celery root)
- 1/4 cup verdurette or miso
- Nama shoyu, to taste
- Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the fat and melt.
- Add in the onions and slowly cook, stirring occasionally until the onions turn golden brown and reduce by 3/4, about 20 minutes.
- Add the stock, mushroom and bay leaf. Bring the pot to a simmer then lower to medium and cook for 15 minutes.
- Add the root veggies and continue to cook for 30 more minutes.
- Finish with the verdurette/miso and shoyu then serve.