By Diane Rossen Worthington
I have been chilled to the bone with uncharacteristically freezing weather this year. (I live in Los Angeles, and cold for me is 60 degrees!) I think I’ve cooked more soups and stew this season than any other dishes. After all, when it’s cold outside we crave comfort food. And this dish is it.
Oddly enough, I tasted this creative and hearty version at the Montage Kapalua Bay Hotel’s Cane & Canoe restaurant on a warm Hawaiian evening. I was surprised that this rustic soup was on the menu, given the tropical weather. It didn’t seem to matter what the outdoor temperature was, because the soup was that delicious. It was so good that my family ordered it twice during our stay.
When I asked Chef Christopher Damskey what made this soup such a standout, he gave me his recipe. It requires the cook to make a short rib stock first and then caramelize the onions. The key is to slowly caramelize the onions in order to bring an especially rich flavor to the soup. It is amazing to watch a mountain of onions become only a few cups after cooking. A reduction of red wine in the cooked onions offers an extra flavor layer. And then blending the onions with the savory short rib stock brings the intense tastes together. Finally, adding small shredded or cut-up short rib pieces to the soup adds a substantial component to the soup.
I’ve tried to streamline Damskey’s recipe while leaving in the important components. This is the soup to make on a weekend when you have the time to make the stock one day and then the soup the next. Remember, that you need to make the stock before you can make the soup.
I also noticed that the soup was served two different ways during out visit. Once it had cheesy croutons on top; another time it was served with a giant baguette slice covered with melted cheese. I like my baguette cheese croutons that are easy to put together and lighter than the usual fondue-style onion soups. Try varying the crouton topping with different melting cheeses like fresh goat cheese, teleme or Italian fontina. I like to accompany this dish with a red wine like zinfandel or a Rhone-style red to stand up to the deep rich flavors.
Caramelized Onion and Short Rib Soup
Serves 3 to 4 as a main dish; 6 as a first course
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 large sweet onions, like Maui or Vidalia, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 10 cups short rib stock (see following recipe)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the topping:
- 12 (1/4-inch) slices French bread, baguette style
- 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (just under 2 ounces)
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish
For the short rib stock:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds short ribs with bones attached
- 2 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 large onion, root end cut off, cut in half
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 bay leaf
- A few whole parsley stems
- In a large non-aluminum Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions until wilted, tossing and turning frequently, about 15 minutes until lightly browned. (Tongs work well for this)
- Add the sugar, turn down heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until caramelized, about 30 to 45 more minutes. You are looking for a dark caramel color.
- Add the wine and reduce until it is almost gone, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, garlic, bay leaf and thyme, and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper, and taste for seasoning. Discard the bay leaf. Add the cooked short rib pieces, and simmer another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. When ready to serve, ladle the soup into heated soup bowls.
- While the soup is cooking, place the bread slices on a cookie sheet and under a preheated broiler; broil until golden, watching carefully to prevent burning, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle each slice of bread with an equal amount of Gruyere and Parmesan cheese, and reserve.
- Just before serving, broil the croutons for 1 to 2 minutes more, or until the cheese is just melted. To serve, float 2 or 3 croutons on the top of each bowl of soup. Sprinkle remaining cheese mixture and a little chopped parsley over each soup bowl for garnish.
Advance Preparation: This dish may be prepared up to three days ahead through Step 3, covered and refrigerated. Re heat gently. It also freezes well. Adjust the seasonings when you reheat the frozen soup.
Short Rib Stock – Makes about 2 quarts
- In a 6-quart stock pot add the oil on medium-high heat. Add the short ribs and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrot and onion, and sauté until nicely softened, about 4 minutes.
- Add enough cold water to fill the pot 3/4 full (about 10 cups). Add wine, bay leaf and parsley stems. Slowly bring to a boil over medium-high heat, uncovered. Turn down the heat as low as possible, partially cover and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Check to see if the short ribs are tender. Taste for seasoning. Add salt to taste.
- Remove the short ribs to a cutting board, and let cool slightly. When cool, remove bones and fat, and cut the meat into 1-inch pieces. Place in small bowl, cover and refrigerate until using.
- Strain the stock through a colander or strainer lined with cheesecloth. Let it cool and refrigerate. When chilled, with large spoon remove the fat from the surface and discard it. Refrigerate until using.
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.