The other ingredients of the beef soup I thought might be easier. The main obstacle to cooking this dish seemed to be, of all things, finding a soup bone to make the stock. In “the old days,” supermarket butchers trimmed meat from larger cuts. In the process, bones were removed to be sold, given away or discarded. These days it seems that most meats are pre-cut and meat departments in Cadiz and Hopkinsville stores have nothing to offer a potential soup maker. One of the people at a store asked if he could help me with anything. I replied, “Maybe turn the clock back 20 years so I could find a soup bone.” Modern convenience comes with a price.
Without the pho recipe to taste-test and comment on, I went back to another soup I made earlier in the week-French onion. Many stories attribute the savory soup to one of the many kings named Louis (either XIV or XV) on a hunting expedition. Hunting had been poor, and alone at his lodge, he found onions, champagne and butter to concoct a soup with. As they grew in the ground, onions were often shunned by nobility, so it could have been normal country fare for the people of that nation.
I went to work on the soup in Hawkins’ kitchen, again on Wednesday night in preparation to watch “Lost.” I used three red onions, halving them then slicing into thin strips. The secret to French onion soup is to cook the onions well, caramelizing them to release the sugar within, and to brown it slightly. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large sauce pan and then add the onions and a tablespoon of minced garlic. Sautee on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, and then add a half teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of sugar. A little bit of pepper would not be out of place at this point. Stir well and continue cooking the mixture for a half hour or 45 minutes until the onions are a nice golden-brown color.
Add a couple of tablespoons of flour to the golden onions, stir well for another two minutes. At first, I felt like a cheat for using cans of beef broth, but then I learned how scarce of a commodity soup bones are in 2007. Pour three-and-a-half cups of canned beef broth into the soup to give it a meaty taste. Dry sherry works well in the soup, so I added a quarter-cup. For extra seasoning, I added a teaspoon of rosemary and another of thyme, just for a good herbal stock. Allow the soup to reach a roiling boil for a half hour or more. Like any other soup or stew, the longer you boil it, the more the flavors mingle. Leave the lid off the pot while you do it, so the onions don’t boil away entirely.
Since prepared beef broth usually has some salt in it, taste it before adding more. More pepper can be added if it suits your palate. As the soup neared readiness, I recalled that many French onion soups call for cognac. I didn’t have any, but we had a bit of bourbon. I threw in an ounce in the final ten minutes to add additional character. Hawkins inspected the soup and asked if it would be filling.
On its own, probably not, but the soup needed a few ingredients when being served to make it a meal. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with thin slices of dry French bread or croutons. Gruyere cheese is not easy to come by either, but I found some slices of provolone to top the croutons with. Use oven-safe bowls or ramekins that can resist the heat of an oven’s broiler. I placed our bowls onto a baking sheet and broiled until the cheese bubbled and browned. Hawkins had to admit that it was a filling meal.
I do have a couple of culinary minds that I like to bounce ideas off of at Hot Diggity Dog on Marion Street. John Bryant and Christina Parker both requested samples of the soup the day before, so I gladly brought them leftovers. Unfortunately, John did not have a broiler for the cheese, but we melted it and warmed the soup in his microwave. Christina gave it her stamp of approval, while John compared it to soup he enjoyed at a penthouse restaurant in Indianapolis, though I forgot the name of the establishment. Christina promised to take a stab at the soup soon, and is contemplating making last week’s adobo. I would love to hear about more readers trying these recipes. They are pretty easy and taste great. I always welcome criticisms, suggestions and hints.
And about the soup bones… Fortunately, the Korean groceries had some in stock along with some of the exotic Asian ingredients called for in the recipe. I doubt I will make the pho next weekend, but look for it maybe as soon as the week after. I think our readers will enjoy the exotic dish.
Hawkins and I enjoyed the soup with no additional sides, though a bowl of salad would have worked well. Our Wednesday tradition of dinner and television made for a good time had by all. Good eating.