Beat the Cold with Sam’s Five Onion Soup

With the winter weather closing in, soup sales are up and salad sales are down at the on-campus restaurants here are the Culinary Institute of America. Nothing is better on a cold day than a hearty, heart-warming bowl of homemade soup! The best thing about making soup at home is that you can use leftover produce, make large batches that will last you days (or even longer in the freezer), and you only have one pot to clean!

A side note: This may be one of my last posts written from the Culinary Institute of America campus! I am graduating in a little over a week on January 18th and my next stop is the beautiful city of San Francisco! I bought my plane ticket and registered for an introductory Sommelier (wine specialist) certification class to be taught in the city next month. This being and all, I should mention that apartment and job hunting have been challenging to say the least. I am moving my career towards the service end of fine dining, so any leads or recommendations for outstanding restaurants or available apartments in the Bay Area would be splendid! Special Limited Time Offer! One lucky reader who helps me find a room to rent in San Francisco proper that is under $750/month around March 1st  will win a thank you dinner cooked at your home by none other than myself...and if the room is furnished, you also get dessert! (Just drop a note to [email protected].)

Here is a favorite soup of mine that will cure your sniffles, warm you up and make you smile:

Rich Five Onion Soup

-2 yellow onions, large, sliced
-2 red onions, large, sliced
-2 “Vidalia” onions, large, sliced
-4 shallots, sliced
-4 garlic cloves, sliced
-2 cups “boiler onions”, peeled and whole (these are the small white onions)
-Vegetable oil, as needed
-2 qt. Low Sodium Beef Broth (or veggie broth if desired)
-1 cup brandy like Calvados (red wine will work too)
-1 sprig fresh rosemary
-1 bay leaf
-Salt and black pepper, to taste

Start by caramelizing the onions. There could be an entire article written about just this step (if interested, just watch this video by my all-time favorite teacher at the C.I.A, Chef Soileau!

Basically: Don’t rush this step. It will probably take up to 45 minutes for the onions to be sufficiently caramel-brown, soft, and sweet. It will look like a lot of onions at first, but they will cook down and decrease significantly in volume! If they sit more than a couple inches deep in your soup pot, better to use a wider saute pan for this step and transfer the onion mixture to the soup pot AFTER adding the Calvados.

-Slice the onions (except the boiler onions. Leave them until the end) ALONG the grain (follow the radial lines) after removing the root ends, cutting the onions and shallots in half, and removing any chunky core there may be.
-Use just enough oil in the pan/pot to coat all the onion slices when tossed. Use enough heat to hear the onions sizzling, just don’t burn them! If they aren’t sizzling, they are “sweating”, meaning they are rending out water and cooling the pan to the point that caramelizing the sugars in the onions isn’t possible.
-If the pan gets browned sugars from the onions built up, splash a little water on the spot and scrape it with a wooden spoon (those brown bits are where all the flavor comes from!)
-Once the onions are very soft and brown (almost like an onion “spread”), add the garlic and cook GENTLY on a lower heat for another 10 minutes.
-Turn up the heat again and add the brandy (or wine). Traditional French Onion soup is “deglazed” in this way with Calvados (an apple-based brandy). You could use other brandy, cognac, or even red wine if that’s all you have. I haven’t tried this, but I bet a little bourbon might do the trick!
-Simmer the liquor and the onions until the liquid is thick and syrupy. Add the beef broth and bring up to a simmer.
-Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the boiler onions, rosemary sprig and bay leaf. Simmer gently until the boiler onions are soft and tender (just taste them). Ladle broth into a bowl with a big heap of onions and ENJOY with some crusty bread!

To serve this onion soup up like the French bistro classic, use oven/broiler safe bowls made of heavy ceramic. Cut slices off of a french baguette that fit snuggly into the top of the bowl. Ladle in the soup leaving a 1/4” below the rim, cover with the thin slice of bread (toasted), and top with a hearty mound of shredded Gruyere cheese. Place the whole thing under a hot broiler and remove when cheese is just melted. Use an oven mitt!

If you have a favorite winter soup recipe you love to make, please share in the comments.

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Sam is originally from Boston, MA. He studied ecology and Spanish language during his undergraduate degree at Hampshire College (Amherst, MA). He then went on to train as a chef at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, NY) and earn an introductory certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers in San Francisco in 2013. He currently lives in Barcelona, Spain and works as a culinary tour operator, wine educator, and food/travel writer for several outlets including My First Apartment. You can check out his blog at Zucker and Spice Travel.

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  1. Admin Admin

    Our family favorite is Grandma Sarah’s Chicken Soup (also known as Jewish Penicillin.) It is guaranteed to cure any cold, short of the Spanish Flu.

    Wash, dry, salt and pepper to taste a whole fresh chicken. Put into a large soup pot and cover with about 2 quarts of water. Add 1 lb (about 5) carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks. Add 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks. Simmer couple of hours. Check the salt and pepper and adjust if needed.

    Take out the chicken. Let cool until ready to handle. Skin and bone the chicken. The meat can be put back into the soup or used for chicken salad, chicken tacos, quesadillas, whatever you like.

    Grandma Sarah served the chicken broth with the carrots and parnips, but no meat. She usually had on the side cooked thin egg noodles to add into the soup, or on special occasions her famous matzo balls. (The recipe came directly from the Matzo Meal package.)