French Onion And Truffle Oil Soup
….With chicken liver.
The title should REALLY read, “French Onion And Chicken Liver Soup With Truffle Oil”, but that’s a bit lengthy, even for somebody like me who takes a 30 second news snippet and turns it into a fifteen minute saga. Also, maybe I didn’t want to mention the chicken liver right off the bat, just in case people started pelting crucifixes at their monitors and sprinkling salt in a circle around their desk chairs.
So here’s the deal: It’s been snowing now for what seems like forever, and we’re still at the frosted top of winter. With only two bad storms under our Ontarian belt, I shouldn’t be complaining yet….but that’s just me. I complain. A lot. It’s what I do best. Also, my arms are aching from shoveling three cubic tons of wet snow off of our driveway and it’s made me rather cranky and cold.
I don’t think that I’m actually a mammal with a working internal heating/cooling system. When the temperature goes above 22C I start to sweat, and if it drops below 20C I start to shiver. That said, considering that my feet have been cold and wet for the last four days (because god forbid that a bit of bad weather would keep me at home for more than a couple of hours!) today I was craving soup.
Mike agreed that it was definitely a soup night, so I emailed him some options. Does he feel like Finnish fish chowder with honey-dill quick bread? Indian spiced Mulligatawny with paneer stuffed raita? Butternut and chipotle? Wild mushroom and leek? And then just as an afterthought, I offered him French Onion and Chicken Liver, knowing very well that he would disregard that one without a second glance.
After all, CHICKEN LIVER. I know, I know. Or, so I *thought* I knew, until the first time that I made a chicken liver pate….and ate most of it before my guests arrived. Chicken livers are really a less foul part of the fowl than you would think. They have an amazing flavor without being as liver-ish as beef liver, they’re incredibly affordable, and you can do some supremely elegant dishes with this much maligned bit of meat.
Well, imagine my surprise when he fixated on the onion and liver soup (his inner child is weeping with outrage right now) and did a, “THAT ONE, THAT ONE, YEAH YEAH YEAH!!” I mean, seriously, the guy acts like tofu is made from the souls of unborn children, but he gravitates towards chicken liver. There is just no justice in this world. Mind you, I’m perfectly happy to slurp up my onion and liver adorned soup as I glower out at the snowy roads and dream of tropical vacations that I can’t afford.
Oh! And I should mention why I put chicken livers in French Onion Soup, because I know that it’s not a regular practice. About two years ago, a girls’ night brought us out to dinner at The 360 restaurant, perched atop the CN Tower in Toronto. Their winter and summer menus change annually, but at that time they had an absolutely divine French Onion Soup – made with cognac, foie gras and black truffles. Oh, baby. Oh man, oh man. I don’t have words for how good this soup was. It was the kind of soup where after two spoonfuls you start wondering if it would be tacky to cancel your entree order and ask for two more bowls of it instead. You know what I mean – the soup where you linger over those last few slurps and greedily eye Skinny Friend’s bowl to see if she’s going to finish hers. Sadly, everybody did.
Alright, so shaking off revolving restaurants with a bird’s eye view of the city and making my way back into a cluttered kitchen in the ‘burbs, you know what I’m about to say: cognac, foie gras, and organic black truffles are all well and good, and were I to be independently wealthy that is what I would be making this with. But…but I’m not. So foie gras bends over and becomes chicken livers, aged cognac steps aside to let that gaudy old broad Marsala bluster in, and truffles are replaced with truffle oil. Truffle oil gives you a lot of bang for your buck. A few wee drops is all that it takes to perfume an entire dish, and since the small $12 bottle that I bought will likely last me for the next few years, I have no problem at all with the price point.
You know what? Being a poor lass really isn’t so bad after all – because this soup is good. Rootin’ tootin’ good, to the point where you might actually put your spoon down to give yourself a pat on the back for having made it. And the chicken livers? Buttery soft, they just add one more dimension that brings you from Plain Jane French Onion into the land of soup paradise. Knowing that this was simmering away on the stove got me through all of the snow shoveling today, and now I have sustenance for when I have to do it again…tomorrow morning. Early. Sigh.
French Onion and Chicken Liver Soup
- 7-8 medium yellow cooking onions
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 whole garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup (2oz) Marsala *
- 1 tbsp grainy dijon mustard
- 3 cups beef stock
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 3/4 tsp dried savory
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 6 chicken livers
- 1 day old slightly stale baguette **
- 8 oz Gruyere cheese (about 2.5 cups shredded)
- 2 oz Parmigiano Reggiano (about 1 cup shredded)
- White truffle oil to taste (approximately 2 tsp or less)
* Marsala is a slightly sweet, very rich fortified wine. If you cannot find Marsala, you can use Madeira, a good sherry or a nice port. And if that’s still too much to ask, well I suppose that a nice rich red wine would do the trick. But I’m disappointed in you for not trying harder. Just saying. You had options.
** Yes, those are two half sized baguettes instead of one regular sized one, but stale baguette is stale baguette. The volume is equivalent!
Begin by peeling the onions, giving them the ol’ top and tail, chopping in half, and cutting them into thin half moons about 1/8 inch thick. Peel the garlic cloves, give them a slight smash, and just let them be.
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven (reduce the dishes!! I only used a saucepan because my D.O. needed a bit of a wash and I was cold, wet, and lazy) melt the 2 tbsp of butter with 1 tbsp of olive oil over low heat. When the butter has melted, sweep in your onions and whole garlic cloves along with the bay leaf (which is hiding underneath layers of onion right now).
Season the onions now with salt and pepper as this will encourage them to caramelize.
After giving the onions a toss to make sure that they’re all coated in buttery oil, let them cook down, still on low heat, for half an hour. Stir them occasionally to make sure that they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan, but for the most part you can leave them alone to caramelize. After about twenty minutes they should look like this….
Oh no, you’re not done yet! You’ve just barely begun! Caramelizing onions takes very little work, but a fair bit of time. After another twenty minutes and another few stirs, they should be very soft and just starting to get golden, like so…..
I know, I know. This post is about as exciting as watching paint peel. After another 10-15 minutes, the onions should be a nice golden brown color and very soft indeed. Add in the tablespoon of grainy dijon mustard and the Marsala. I do love Marsala. The flavor is so rich and deep, somewhat sweet, and adds a phenomenal layer of taste to pan sauces and the occasional soup.
Stir the onions until the mustard is well combined and the onions have absorbed most of the Marsala. This should only take a minute or two.
Scoop those delicious onions into a large pot and add the two types of stock as well as the remaining herbs. Rinse the chicken livers under cold water (I’m sparing you a picture of this), drop them into the luke-warm pot, and turn the heat to medium. The livers will begin to slowly poach as the soup heats up.
Let this come to a simmer and if it starts to boil at all turn the heat down to medium low. Stir this occasionally and let it cook away for 20 minutes. There are two things that we still have to do for this soup:
1. Following the 20 min simmer, scoop out the six chicken livers (aren’t you glad that we counted?) and cut them up into a quarter inch dice.
2. Do you see all of the froth at the top of the soup? That’s nastiness of the impurity ilk. Scoop if off the top of the pot, but no need to be a viking about it. Some of that impurity is tasty…..
Now drop the chopped livers back into the pot and we’re almost done. Cut the baguette on an angle into 1/2 inch slices.
Ladle some soup into a French Onion Soup bowl or a small bowl-shaped oven safe dish. Top with a few slices of the baguette and sprinkle on enough Gruyere to cover the bread. Sprinkle some Parmigiano over top.
The soup is still hot so our goal now is to melt the cheese. Slide the bowl underneath your broiler for 3-5 minutes until the cheese is bubbly on the bread and it’s just starting to brown in places.
After you take the bowls out, drizzle each with just a few drops of the truffle oil. Remember that this is potent stuff and a little really goes a long way. Don’t feel guilty about being a grinch with your truffle oil, because anything more than 4-5 drops would be overkill anyway.
Served with a simply dressed green salad (I like a traditional French vinaigrette) this is the perfect comforting meal for a cold winter’s day.
Warm soup, melty cheese, and yet another use for stale bread. Could I get any happier? I thought not.
Also, what you’re looking at right now is my bowl of soup. I served Mike his soup in a small casserole dish….because he works out and I don’t. It’s only right. So he starts eating it, and he’s dead silent. For five minutes. And then ten. Just eating cheesy bread, slurping up soup, in SILENCE. I started to panic. Finally he turned to me and said, “This is….this is just…this is really, REALLY good. Um….THANK YOU.” And with that he went back to the soup. High praise for onions and chicken livers, if I don’t say so myself.