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here’s a life in my soup

MONISH GUJRAL Last Updated : 17 Feb 2012 01:51:42 PM IST
Some times a memorable dinner, even though eaten many years ago, stands out as ones first great meal. I experienced something similar in my childhood at an old French Bistro on one gorgeous summer evening in Paris.
I still remember that I nearly burnt my mouth eating a dish that remains the epicenter of a seminal food experience. Since then, I’ve eaten this dish at most a handful of times, and even cooked it on a few occasions. It’s the French onion soup (Soupe à l’oignon).

French onion soup is an onion and beef broth or a beef stock based soup which was traditionally served with croutons and cheese toppings. It’s a classic French recipe. Although ancient in origin, this dish underwent a resurgence of popularity in the 1960s in the US.
The rich flavour of the base is not just due to the broth, but for the caramelized onions. Caramelization, in this case is the procedure in which the onions are cooked slowly until the melting sugars approach burning temperature, becoming golden brown. Some recipes suggest a half an hour of cooking time, but many chefs and cooks allow for hours of cooking to bring out the complex flavours of the onions’ sugars. The trick to sweat the onions to draw out the liquid is an important step in caramelization. This can be accomplished by tossing the onions in a fat of choice (olive oil, butter, or bacon fat), adding salt, and then covering the pot and letting the onions cook over very low heat. The salt and heat draw the liquid out of the onions. Finally a dash of cognac or sherry is often used to enhance the caramelized onion flavour and to deglaze the pan.
The base is usually topped with the crouton, which will be very dry and crusty to allow it to withstand lying on the soup surface, while baked or broiled with a good melting cheese on top. In some instances, a slice of plain bread can also be used. The soup is then served in the bowl in which it was broiled or baked. Although the original version has beef base, but there can be variation depending upon ones choice of stocks such as vegetable or chicken stock, which makes a lighter-coloured broth.
Despite many trips to Paris, I never found that restaurant whose soup I remember till date. I guess it was in the part of the city demolished for a new development.

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First chef from India to be invited to Le cordon Bleu to demonstrate in Paris. Monish is credited with the trailblazing turn-around of Moti Mahal, from being a small but iconic presence in Delhi, to becoming a multi-national corporation that is well on its way to defining how the world eats Indian food. A traditionalist, Monish has remained true to the signature dishes that made Moti Mahal a legend, while reinventing the dining experience into one that is exciting and avant garde to suit modern sensibilities.

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