How about this: Is french onion soup made with homemade beef stock so much better than one made from powder that it's worth the effort and expense of making the stock yourself? Or can the powder stuff work just fine in a soupe d'oignon? I did a side-by-side comparison to find out.
The results are in and perhaps, not surprisingly, it's a no-brainer. They sure look the same. But that's where the similarities end. Taste is what it's all about. The french onion soup made with homemade consommé blew the other one out of the ballpark! Not even close. I enrolled Eric in this taste test. He had no idea which was which. We tasted the first one. Had a sip of water. Then tasted the second one. There was no comparison AT ALL. The homemade stock tasted leap-years-ahead better. It was glaringly obvious to both of us. I think the exact words Eric used to describe the onion soup made with powered stock was "pee pee de chat"...a little harsh...and no translation required!
And so, I wholeheartedly encourage EVERYONE to make beef consommé from scratch. It is the most delicious thing you will taste. (Well, I mean, if you're not a vegetarian...) And if you're sick, well there's a reason beef broth is brought to you, if you're lucky. The taste is so rich and it must nourish you right down to your soul. And when used in the french onion soup....you will realize that there's nothing better than this.
Here are the recipes. (Source: Cuisine de Reférence, Michel Maincent-Morel, the reference book we used at Ecole Ferrandi, with modifications by me)
Beef Consommé - called marmite in french (makes 2.5 liters)
Cost: 12 euros (~$15.50), but meat can be used at the end for something else
1.5 -2 kgs of 3rd category of beef & bones (see photos above for what I used)
170 g carrots, either left whole or coursely chopped
170 g onions, cut in half
170 g leeks, cut lengthwise in half
100 g celery
3 small turnips, cut in half
leftover stalk of broccoli if you have it in the fridge!
2 cloves garlic
1 bouquet garni
3 liters of water
1. Start your stock. Put meat & bones into large pot & add cold water until filled well above meat & bones. Add a good quantity of kosher salt to the water. No cover required. You can ficeler (tie up) your meat if you want as this will help it hold together after it cooks a very long time & becomes soft & potentially falls into bits & pieces.
2. Prep veggies - while water is coming to a boil. Peel carrots, onions & garlic. Make your BG (bouquet garni), cut leeks in half & rinse under cold water to remove sand. Peel whatever exta vegetables (root or otherwise) that you might want to add. I added some turnips & a broccoli stalk left over from something else.
3. Prep the onion. Cut it in half
(in the horizontal sense). Sauté both sides with oil or butter till really nice & almost black. Don't let it burn, but it's one occasion where getting it almost burnt is allowed, so enjoy it while you can! The onion cooked this way imarts some color to the consommé. Prick each onion with 2 cloves. (Do you see them in the pic?) Set aside.
4. Skim off the scum from the pot often. This is especially important if you don't blanchir the meat first. Blanchir means to add the meat to a pot of cold water, bring it to a boil, drain it immediately, and re-add cold water & bring back to a boil. This process (if done, it would be a precursor step to step#1) removes impurities but it can also remove some flavor. Alternatively, you can remove the impurities by skimming the pot, but you need to do it often & pay attention to it. My preference is to skim and not blanchir, but that's a personal choice! I know the scum looks gross, but it's easily removed...
4. Let meat simmer ~1 hour uncovered. Continue skimming! Then add all prepped vegetables, garlic, BG.
5. Let pot simmer very gently for 3-5 hours, uncovered. Continue skimming & de-greasing.
6. Strain meat & vegetables once meat is cooked (ie, soft & tender): first, remove the meat and vegetables from the pot. Then strain the stock delicately through whatever strainers you have (I strained mine through 2 consecutively finer meshed strainers.) Try to avoid clouding it if you strain too "roughly".
7. Cool it done immediately if storing for a later use (or use as is). It's easier to remove the fat when it's cooled...just passez au chinois! (strain it). This is delicous as is, or can be used as the base of a french onion soup.
French Onion Soup
(scale up or down the quantity you want to make)
800 g onions
100 g butter
1 liter beef consommé
250 g gruyère cheese, shredded
salt & pepper
1. Prep onions. Be prepared to cry! Cut onions in the sense of length. Put on cutting board & slice as thinly as possible.
2. Heat butter till frothy. Add onions & cook over low-moderately low temperature for about 1 hour until nice & soft & slightly golden. If you have a thick-bottomed heavy pan, you can afford to crank up the heat a bit. Be careful, however, not to burn them no matter what pan you use! Stir often. Cover with parchment paper while cooking.
3. Slice baguettes & toast gently in the oven @ 160°C until crisp (about 10 minutes).
4. Heat beef consommé on stovetop. Add onions to beef consommé. Season with salt & pepper. Cover till ready to serve. Preheat broiler.
5. Prepare the cheese croutons. Add shredded cheese on top of baguette. Put under broiler until melted & browned nicely.
6. Serve. Fill soup bowls with french onion soup. Add 1 or 2 cheese croutons to each bowl and serve immediately. Be sure to share the rest of the grilled cheese croutons at the table...they will disappear.
In all reality, in an authentic french onion soup you're supposed to put the soup into a broiler-proof bowl and then add the croutons & then fill generously with the cheese. Next it goes under the broiler. I tried this, but personally didn't like it that way so much. It becomes too cheesy & goey for my taste....and it took forever for the cheese to melt in our home oven. As we were hungry that night, I eventually gave up getting that golden cheese color. The next time we had onion soup for dinner, I did it with the croutons & found that I preferred it this way. To each his own.