onion-soup
French onion soup with croutons and cheese

You can but ... 

| Recently the usual suspects went up to Idylwild to have brunch at the Gastrognome, our new favorite restaurant at the top of the hill. As soon as we sat down on the patio, a brisk wind came up, so we were very receptive to the idea of a bowl of French onion soup to start.

The soup was delicious, as is everything at Gastrognome, and talk turned to how to make it, and centered on the long cooking times involved. A reasonable question arose: Could you make it in a crock pot? Since then I have been on a quest to concoct French onion soup in a crock pot.

There are three distinct steps in making French onion soup:

  1. Sweat the water out of the onions
  2. Let the water evaporate and carmelize the onions
  3. Add flavors and broth and let it all come together over low heat for a long time

First batch

I knew the crock pot would do a fine job with the first and final steps, but I was dubious about the carmelizing step, so I cheated and started the soup on the stove top, following Julia Child's recipe in Mastering ...  I must say, I was very pleased with the final result, so pleased in fact that I ate two big bowls of the soup.

Second batch

Then I moved on to a new batch doing the entire recipe in the crock pot. I found a slew of recipes on the web that insisted that yes, indeed, onions could be carmelized in a crock pot. The jury is still out; it's 24 hours later and I just got to the adding-broth stage. Although I'm not prepared to say this was a bad idea, I am ready to say that it isn't a very good one.

  1. The sweating went swimmingly — the crock pot did an excellent job with this, except that it took seemingly forever (3+ hours) to soften the onions and get them to release their moisture.
  2. The carmelizing just didn't happen — nine hours later they still looked pretty pale. The central issue here is that to carmelize the onions you have to take the lid off the crock pot so the steam can excape, and when you do that, so does the heat. Eventually I shut off the crock pot and left it overnight.
  3. This morning I added flour (to thicken) and cooked it, then added the broth. My fear that the flour wouldn't cook was unfounded; that went surprisingly well. However, the first taste of the broth was disappointing. We'll have to see what it's like after the big simmer.

When the carmelizing went so slowly (as in not happening, girl), I eventually offset the lid so steam could escape. Perhaps if I had done the entire step that way it would be OK but I'm still dubious. Essentially what happened is that the onions simmered for half a day without drying out enough to stop steaming.

Meanwhile

My enthusiasm for the crock pot method has waned. Maybe I'll try again. Or maybe I won't.

Last updated on Apr 29, 2016

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