Friday, May 23, 2008

French Onion Soup—Veal or Beef Stock?

French Onion Soup
French onion soup, which dates back to the 17th century, used to be the mark of a good restaurant when I was growing up. If this soup was on the menu, it was a “good” restaurant! Nowadays, it seems that French onion soup is offered at every bar and grill. However, I find it’s usually way too salty. This could be from the sub-par grocery-store-variety sodium-enriched stock they’re using as the base.

I’ve noticed some commenting in blogs about veal stock being better in French onion soup than beef stock. Given that I have a freezer full of both to get rid of this millennium, I thought I would try making a batch of each.

Some recipes for French onion soup call for the sweeter Vidalia onions or even red onions, and others suggest the milder yellow onions. Vidalias, Walla Wallas, and Texas Spring Sweet onions are sweeter and have less bite. Red onions have more bite and a stronger flavor, and are generally used to decorate salads. For this soup, I prefer the yellow onions.

I love the smell of onions carmelizing on the stove (or in the oven). It’s such a homey, delicious smell. Second to making the stock, carmelizing the onions is the next step that takes a lot of time, but well worth the effort.

Carmelizing the onions correctly is key. It takes a long time to draw out the flavor from the onions as they carmelize, so be patient. Some recipes add sugar to help carmelize the onions, but I left this out. I don’t like this soup to be too sweet.

French Onion SoupDeglazing
White wine, beer, sherry, red wine, Cognac, brandy. All have been used in one recipe or another to deglaze the onions. I used what I had in the house, which was beer. Since it’s used to add flavor, I probably should have dug out a nice Cognac, but again I wanted to focus on the flavor of the stock.

Some recipes mix chicken stock with the beef stock. I didn’t want to muddy the waters, so to speak, with chicken stock so I stuck with the beef and veal stocks.

Veal and Beef Stock

Did you know that Julia Child’s last meal was French onion soup (according to Wikipedia)?


There’s a whole website dedicated to French Onion Soup recipes, but I pulled out the recipe I usually go to when I want to make this soup. The original recipe calls for condensed beef consommé. I replaced this with my homemade versions of veal and beef stock. I made two batches that were identical except for the stock.

Slices of good bread, toasted
Gruyère, Swiss, Mozzarella, Parmesan, or a combination, grated
Garlic (optional)

Carmelize the onions slowly with the butter and a large pinch of salt in a heavy saucepan on low heat, stirring frequently until the onions have turned a golden brown. This takes about 30-45 minutes. (Thomas Keller’s recipe suggested doing this for 3-4 hours. I’ll have to try that someday!) Sprinkle the flour on the onion mixture and cook for about 3 minutes.

Next, slowly add the beer, stirring to remove the brown bits (fond) stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the hot stock and the Bouquet Garni. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for up to 1 hour. Remove from the heat. Remove the Bouquet Garni.

When you’re ready to serve, toast a baguette slice for each soup bowl. Pour the soup into a bowl. Top with the toasted baguette slice. Sprinkle cheese on top and broil until golden and bubbly, about 3-4 minutes.

French Onion Soup
Tasting Notes
This is a delicious, rich, comforting soup. Although both soups tasted great, we preferred the one made with beef stock! Uh oh. Have our taste buds gotten so used to the salty restaurant-variety French onion soup? I had used the Thomas Keller veal stock, which has a lot of tomatoes in it. This could be why we preferred the more meaty flavor of the beef stock married with the onions. Both soups were enjoyable, and they tasted even better the next day, when the flavors had blended together.

. . . . . . . . . .

Running total: $431.19 + $3.65 = $434.84

Butter used so far: 5 pounds, 2 tablespoons


Vicarious Foodie said...

Would you believe I've never had French onion soup? I don't know what's wrong with me. This sounds really good though. I love that cute little onion bowl!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm shocked, I thought for sure the veal would win. Even when I buy demi glace, I always buy veal.

Thanks for the taste test and clearing it up.

Madeline said...

Dare I say I use either half and half, chicken and beef stock or all beef stock. I too thought you would prefer the veal stock. I guess it's just one of those things no one will ever agree on. Either way, I adore french onion soup and I love your onion bowl!

Anonymous said...

I admire your experimenting spirit. Is your running total what you've spent so far this year on things that you blog about?

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

vicarious foodie - thanks for dropping by. The onion bowl was too cute to pass up for this photo op!

noble pig - I was surprised that the beef stock won out too!

madeline - I'm going to have to try chicken and beef next time! Sounds intriguing.

madam chow - That's a good question. I'm keeping a running total to compare to the cooking school tuition I would have paid. I know cooking school would be priceless for the wisdom of the chefs, the learning from fellow students, and the intensity of the classes, but I thought it would be an interesting thing to keep track of. So, I only keep track for the ones that are part of the cooking school curriculum. I should probably explain this somewhere in the blog. Thanks for dropping by!


Jon said...

This isn't a huge surprise. Keller himself says to use beef stock in his Bouchon cookbook. Veal stock works best for most other cooking, however.

aggromonster said...

Sorry for the awesomely late comment here, but should you ever find interest in revisiting this subject, please compare your all beef stock winner to a half beef & half veal stock contender. This especially if you do not make your beef stock with veal shanks ala Escoffier. Umami may have a place here, don't you know. I would be interested in hearing your results.

Happy food to all.