Gentleman's Portion

A good helping of life, love and whisky

SOUP FOR THE SOUL

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New Year's Day on Toronto Island

New Year’s Day on Toronto Island

French onion soup is the perfect soul food for our annual New Year’s Day adventure.

Each year, a group of hardy sailors venture over to our clubhouse on frozen Toronto Island. Some take the ferry to the other end of the island and walk for 40 minutes. Others take a water taxi, if it’s running and the harbour isn’t too full of ice. Some celebrate New Year’s Eve on the island and stay with friends who live there, so their morning journey might even be accomplished by bicycle if the road has been ploughed. The first group who arrive light our old wood stove and in minutes there is a nice warm fug. We all bring a pot-luck food item to share with everyone. Some years only a handful straggle over, usually due to very inclement weather, and other years as many as 30 show up, members, family and friends. The location is one of Toronto’s best kept secrets, but here’s a hint: the Harbour City Yacht Club floating clubhouse is located at: 43° 37′ 15″ N 79° 22′ 53″ W.

Now this version of onion soup is not fully authentic, because it uses turkey stock instead of beef stock. This robs it of it’s rich beefy colour, and perhaps makes it a blander, sweeter taste. However, it’s a wonderful way to make something different with all those turkey left-overs after the holiday.

I first came across authentic onion soup in Paris in the early sixties. Young Londoners would head over to the city of light for the weekend because London was still a dull city then and Paris was easy to reach on the train. We’d end up in strange Gypsy bars on the Left Bank listening to sad songs, or in wild nightclubs like Le Crazy Horse Saloon (much more fun than the Moulin Rouge, until the movie “What’s New Pussy Cat” spoiled it for everyone, by putting it on the tourist map). Then it was traditional to join the porters and other denizens of the night (whores, drunks and stray cats) for a bowl of steaming onion soup at a stall in the great market at Les Halles. The French government, with a strange disregard for tradition, pulled down the market and moved it out to the suburbs. Something of the atmosphere, and at five o’clock in the morning it was some atmosphere, must have permeated the soup, because I’ve never been able to quite replicate the exact same taste.

FRENCH ONION SOUP (Soupe à l’oignon) (“How to Eat Well and Stay Single” page 53)
Serves: 4 – 6
Preparation time: 20 min
Cooking time: 2 hr

INGREDIENTS
2 lb yellow onions (7 to 9) to make 4-5 cups thinly sliced
1/8 lb (1/4 cup) butter
2 tbsp cooking oil
3 tbsp flour
1/2 cup cooking sherry or brandy or dry white wine
5 cups fresh TURKEY STOCK (TIP: Substitute beef stock to make the soup a richer brown)
salt and pepper to taste
OPTION: Pinch or two of sugar

WEAPONS
Large heavy saucepan
Medium saucepan
Mixing bowl
Wooden spoon
Sharp knife
Chopping board
Measuring cup
Ovenproof soup bowls

PREPARATION AND COOKING
1. Peel and slice the onions thinly.
2. Heat 1/4 cup butter and 2 tbsp cooking oil in the pan until they are bubbling and the butter has stopped frothing. Add all the onions and immediately turn the heat down to low. Cook the onions very slowly for about 45 min, by which time they should be a golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for a further 3 min, stirring all the time to prevent burning. (TIP: To further brown the onions add a pinch or two of sugar to the pot and stir in well.)
3. In a separate pot bring the stock to boiling.
4. Take off the onions off the heat, add the stock and mix thoroughly. Add the wine and cook partially covered at a very low simmer for 30 or 40 minutes more.
5. The soup is now ready for serving as it is, or for serving with cheese (see below) or for keeping covered in the fridge until needed.

Onion soup with a cheese crouton

Onion soup with a cheese crouton

SOUPE À L’OIGNON GRATINÉE
1. Cut 8 to 12 3/4″ in slices from a loaf of French bread
2. Toast them thoroughly, or bake on a baking pan in the oven at 320°F/160°C for about 30 minutes until they are thoroughly dried out and golden brown croûtes. OPTION: halfway through the baking rub both sides with olive oil; after baking rub each piece with a cut slice of garlic.
3. Float one or two croûtes on each ovenproof bowl of soup, sprinkle on grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese and brown under a hot broiler before serving.

TURKEY STOCK
1 turkey carcass, all traces of stuffing removed
Any left-over skin, meat or bones
2 bay leaves
1 sprig parsley chopped roughly
2 carrots peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion not peeled, dry skin and all, quartered

1. Cover carcass and all ingredients with water, simmer for at least 2 hours. Skim off excess fat.
2. Drain off broth to remove bones, cooked vegetables etc, then strain again until a clear broth is left.
3. Reserve or freeze for use in gravies and soups.

Happy New Year!

PS: Please leave a comment, if you found something useful or interesting in this recipe. Or please add your own variations for others to share.

Author: Nigel

Freelance director and writer

2 thoughts on “SOUP FOR THE SOUL

  1. Nigel – looks like a grand soup….wishing you all the best in 2013 – may the water levels rise in Lake Ontario and may we have many ideal sailing days!

    • The clubhouse is frozen in solid but safe and sitting in sand. Twenty two people came to the Commodore’s New Year’s Day event, a great success for our new Commodore. The planned hot soup was all consumed in the kitchen trials and photo session so I took Buckingham Palace style smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches instead, three loaves of which were all consumed. A full lake and safe sailing for 2013 indeed.

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