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Food Network Favorites: French Onion Soup

A delicious rendition of the classic, from the Alton Brown chapter in Food Network Favorites . The "twist" is that the onions are cooked slowly in an electric skillet, rather than in a pan on the stove.

The book tries to play up this use of a different piece of equipment as a "brilliant" move by Brown. There's an entire page devoted to Brown's way of "getting to the conventional via the unconventional," which feels a tad hyped-up to me. I love Alton Brown's show and certainly believe he's a clever and innovative chef, but I tend to cringe a bit at the way the Food Network is trying to force the "brilliant" angle. That's not a knock on Brown, by any means; I doubt he had any control over how the Food Network is hyping him in this book.

While using an electric skillet is certainly a clever idea, I'm not so sure that it's as earth-shattering as the Food Network's editors would like me to believe. I do, however, highly recommend using one if you've got one, since there's no way to burn the onions in it, and they will caramelize beautifully.

The ingredients, proportions, and results were all fine; the only change I have made is to allow for a somewhat longer cooking time. Alton Brown's recipe states that the onions will caramelize to a deep mahogany brown in about an hour, but my onions needed almost 2 hours total before they were dark brown and completely caramelized. Don't rush this step, because the flavor of the soup comes from the sugars in the onions. Blond onions will lead to bland soup.

As with all classic French onion soups, this version is topped with broiled bread and cheese. You can certainly skip this step if you'd like, but it adds something special to the soup.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: about 2 1/2 hours
Yield: 8 serving

5 sweet onions (such as Vidalia) or a combination of sweet and red onions (about 4 pounds)
3 Tbsp butter
Kosher salt
2 cups white wine
10 oz. canned beef consommé (1 1/4 cup)
10 oz. chicken broth (1 1/4 cup)
10 oz. apple cider (unfiltered is best) (1 1/4 cup)
Bouquet garni: thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and parsley tied together with kitchen string
1 loaf country-style bread
Freshly ground black pepper
Splash Cognac (optional)
1 cup grated fontina or Gruyère cheese

Trims the ends off each onion, then halve lengthwise. Remove peel and finely slice into half-moon shapes (a mandoline is an excellent tool for this job).

Set electric skillet to 300 degrees and add butter. Once butter is melted, add a layer of onions and sprinkle with a little salt. Repeat layering onions and salt until all onions are in the skillet. Don't stir until onions have sweated down for 15 to 20 minutes. After that, stir occasionally until onions are a dark mahogany color and reduced to approximately 2 cups. This could take from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.

Add wine and turn heat to high, reducing the wine to a syrupy consistency. Add consommé, broth, cider, and bouquet garni. Reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. (You will need to experiment to find the proper simmering temperature on your electric skillet. Try turning the temperature down to 325F, and if the soup is simmering too rapidly, reduce even further.)

Place oven rack in top third of oven and heat the broiler. Cut country bread into rounds large enough to fit the tops of oven-proof soup crocks. Place the slices on a baking sheet and broil for 1 minute.

Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Splash with a bit of Cognac, if desired. Remove bouquet garni and ladle soup into crocks, leaving 1 inch of room below the lip. Place bread, toasted sides down, on top of soup and top with cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.



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