♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Today on "Cook's Country," I'm making easy steak frites, Toni explores how French fries became an American staple, Adam reviews braisers, and Brian's making French onion soup.
That's all right here on "Cook's Country."
♪♪ ♪♪ -Steak frites might be the ultimate bistro menu dish, but in reality that simple dish took a lot of hands to put it on your dining table.
You have the line cook making their steak, you have the fry cook cooking the fries, and then someone had to make the sauce.
So if you try to make steak frites at home, it can get really overwhelming.
I'm going to show you a streamlined version that's going to take steak frites to your table in 30 minutes.
We're gonna make a really flavorful compound butter.
It starts with 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
And this should be nice and soft and mashable.
That's a technical culinary term -- "mashable."
So I'm just using a fork to break it up a little bit.
You don't want it to be melted.
Just plain butter on a steak is good, but we're gonna add some flavor.
I've got one clove of garlic that I've grated into a nice fine paste.
Easier to incorporate.
I have a tablespoon of minced parsley.
And this is where you can really change up the flavors if you wish.
Tarragon would be nice in here, as would thyme or rosemary.
I have 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.
Now I have one more ingredient, and that is one shallot that I minced.
And now I'll go back to my fork.
And as I mash it, I'm actually breaking down the shallot even more, getting more flavor into the butter.
Just gonna set that aside for now.
Let us move on to the frites part of steak frites.
We're using Yukon Gold potatoes here today instead of russet potatoes.
Russet potatoes are usually the go-to for French fries, but Yukon Golds are a little less starchy, they've got great flavor, and they're gonna hold on to their structure a bit more.
Now, you want to make the potato nice and safe, and we also want to square off the edges.
Just get rid of about 1/4 inch off of each of the long sides here.
That also took care of a lot of peeling.
You don't have to worry about that.
And any edges that have some peel on it are absolutely fine.
So, now, in order to get 1/4-inch batons, we're gonna start making our first cuts into planks.
We're gonna make 1/4-inch planks.
And you can totally take your time to do this.
But you can see with that nice straight bottom, it's a lot safer to cut a potato.
So now it's up to you.
If you're just starting off using your knife, you might want to do these one at a time.
As you get faster, you can stack a few planks on top of each other.
But all you need to do is work your knife across to make 1/4-inch batons just like that.
Alright, so that looks great.
Now let's move over to our Dutch oven, which is empty.
There's no preheated oil in there.
We're using a cold oil to start our French fries, and that's going to allow them to cook through a little bit more evenly before they really start to brown on the outside.
This is just one fry all the way through.
But we are gonna need some oil.
And I've got 6 cups of peanut oil.
Peanut oil has a beautiful, clean flavor.
We love it for fries, but you could use vegetable or canola oil here.
And this is half of what you would usually use.
So by using this cold-oil method, we can get away with using half the oil.
Fries go in.
And I should note that we didn't rinse the fries at all.
You don't want to rinse them underwater or get them wet because wet fries in oil sooner or later will start popping at you.
I'm going to stir these together.
And now I'm gonna turn the heat to high underneath that pot.
And we want the oil to come up to a vigorous simmer, and that's going to take about five minutes.
That is vigorously boiling.
Now comes the hardest part, is to leave it alone.
We're not gonna stir this.
We don't want to break up those potatoes.
But we're gonna let them bubble away for 15 minutes.
And the oil, since it started at room temperature, is not going to go too high, so we don't really have to worry about the fries burning.
But we do have to worry about cooking some steak.
So while the fries are going, I want to heat up a little bit of oil.
I've got a tablespoon of vegetable oil.
You could use peanut oil, canola oil.
I'm gonna turn the heat to medium high and let that oil heat until it's really shimmering and you start to see a few wisps of smoke.
In the meantime, let's talk about steak.
These are two 1-pound strip steaks.
They're about 1 1/2 inches thick.
Now, I need to do a little bit of trimming.
I want to get rid of this extra little muscle here.
Any scraps should go into a bag put in your freezer, and you can pull it out and make a nice beef stock.
Now, to make four portions from these steaks, just going to cut it crosswise.
And I am gonna leave quite a bit of this fat on.
In fact, I'm gonna leave it all on because it's going to baste the steak and just make everything taste better.
So, same thing here.
And now we kind of have little mock tenderloins or little mock filets.
And actually the sirloin cut in France is called the "contra filet," so, "opposite of the filet."
So all you need to do is pat these dry with paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper.
Seasoning the surfaces of meat is kind of like brushing your teeth.
You only have to brush the ones that you want to keep.
Just season the areas you want to taste good.
Alright, so I'm seeing smoke and some shimmering going on here in the skillet.
That is hot enough for us to start adding the steak and cooking.
[ Sizzling ] Well, that's a good sign.
You love to hear it.
Alright, it's been two minutes.
Let's take a look at that first side.
Oh, yeah, we're seeing some good color there.
So I am going to continue cooking these steaks, flipping them every two minutes, building up that crust.
And because these steaks are so thick that can take up to 12 minutes.
But what's more important is I'm going to look for 125 degrees right in the center of those steaks.
♪♪ -Potatoes were first cultivated in the Andes Mountains as far back as 3000 B.C.
They were most likely brought to Europe by a Spanish conquistador named Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada in 1530.
But once the tubers arrived on the Continent, not everyone saw their appeal.
In France, for example, potatoes were considered food fit only for hogs.
Enter Antoine-Augustin Parmentier.
He was fed potatoes while he was imprisoned in Prussia, and despite the unpleasant circumstances, he liked potatoes and saw their potential as a cheap source of food.
Thanks to him, potatoes became popular in French cooking, baked, boiled, and fried.
Fried potatoes eventually found their way to the American plate via James Hemings.
Hemings was a talented chef who was enslaved by Thomas Jefferson.
Hemings was taken to Paris, where he was taught traditional French cuisine.
When he and Jefferson returned to Virginia, Hemings prepared a version of pommes frites for the menu at Monticello.
And since Jefferson was considered a cultural trendsetter, from there French fries became a popular menu item throughout America.
-Okay, so I'm going to check and see if the temp is around 125.
I'll take it.
Alright, these are ready to come out of the skillet.
I've turned the heat off.
I'm gonna put these on my serving platter.
It's very bistroey.
And now bring in that compound butter.
Gonna dollop spoonfuls on top of the steak.
Make sure everybody gets enough there.
So the steaks need to rest.
Just tent that, and we're gonna let those rest for 10 minutes.
Now, these have been cooking for 15 minutes.
And now I can go in with a pair of tongs and give them a gentle stir.
I don't want to break them up too much here.
And we're gonna let these continue to cook until they're nice and golden brown, you can actually hear them be very crisp, and that's gonna take 7 to 10 minutes.
It's all about timing.
What a difference 10 minutes can make.
Look at how beautiful these fries are.
And you can hear them.
They're crispy, crunchy.
Time to get them out of the oil because I can't wait another minute.
And I'm putting them on a triple layer of paper towels just to absorb any excess oil.
But the beauty of the cold-oil method is less fat is absorbed into the potatoes.
Good seasoning with salt.
Could use kosher salt here.
You can use sea salt flakes.
But use plenty.
One of the worst culinary sins is an unseasoned French fry.
It's time to eat.
Got our beautiful steaks here.
Again, they were resting for 10 minutes.
You can see that the compound butter has started to melt.
It's mixed with the juices from the steak.
And of course a nice helping of fries.
I mean, doesn't that look gorgeous?
[ Sighs ] It's time to tuck in.
Still nice and juicy.
The crust on that is so well developed too.
So now a little bit of my French fry here.
They're unbelievably crisp.
And they're almost like a baked potato on the inside.
And when no one's looking, go into the platter.
This great restaurant dish can be made at home, and it's all about timing.
Start the fries cooking in room-temperature oil.
Meanwhile, sauté thick strip steaks and then dollop them with a flavored butter.
Let the fries simmer until crisp, and dinner is served.
So, from "Cook's Country," a dinner worthy of chez vous.
Easy steak frites.
♪♪ -If you like to cook in a Dutch oven but find that you're often cooking for a smaller crowd so that the Dutch oven is too much pot for you, I humbly submit for your consideration the braiser.
We tested five different braisers here.
They were all about 3 1/2 quarts, which we think is a good size to cook for four people.
The price range was a low of $59 to a high of about $330.
These pots are almost like hybrids.
They're a little bit Dutch oven.
They're a little bit skillet because they're low and you can shallow-fry in them or sauté in them.
They're also a little bit roasting dish because you can roast chickens in them.
Or they're like casserole dishes.
They're all pretty enough to go from the oven to the table, so you can make baked mac and cheese or a gratin or a pot pie or something right in these.
They're very versatile.
Our testers used them to braise chicken thighs, make meatballs, braise string beans, make pork ragout, and to roast those 5-pound chickens, and each one fit them.
When they were doing this cooking test, they did determine that the ceramic model on the end didn't brown quite as effectively or evenly as the cast-iron models.
Now, as I said, these things are a little bit skilletlike.
In any kind of skillet, we like to have as much cooking area as we can get.
Most of them were around 10 inches, like this one.
This one was 10 1/2 inches.
Testers really liked the extra space.
Most of the sides were about 2 inches tall, which is great for evaporation.
It's actually a little challenging when you're stirring things.
You just have to be careful not to toss food out of the sides.
These pans weigh 12 to 13 pounds empty, so the handles are really important.
You want generous looped handles that are easy to grasp wearing oven mitts.
Something that was a little smaller and closer in to the pan still worked, just wasn't as secure wearing oven mitts.
So if you find yourself cooking for a smaller crowd, a braiser can make a really nice addition to your kitchen arsenal.
And our favorite of the five was this blue guy right here.
This is the Le Creuset Signature enameled cast-iron round braiser.
3 1/2 quarts.
It had nice generous handles.
It's a terrific pan.
Cheap it wasn't at about $300.
Testers also chose a Best Buy.
That's the Tramontina enameled cast-iron covered braiser.
Got plenty of cooking space.
Cooked on par with the Le Creuset.
The real difference is both the price -- it's $62 -- and the handles are a little bit smaller than ideal.
But either way, you're gonna "braise" the stakes on your cooking.
♪♪ -A classic French onion soup is based on fragrant caramelized onions in a hearty, rich beef broth.
Individual portions of that soup are then topped with a toasted a piece of bread, known as a crouton, and then a heavy fistful of melted Gruyère cheese.
It makes a showstopping first course for any meal.
In this bowl here I have about 4 pounds of onions that have been sliced.
And I'm gonna finish slicing up the last of the onions here.
I just remove the root and the tip of the onion.
Typically cut the onion in half, and this makes it much easier to peel.
And then just slice the onions.
You want to slice them pole to pole.
Doesn't matter if the onions are all completely even or not, because they're gonna cook for so long, they'll break down so much that you won't be able to tell the difference in the end.
Add those to the rest of our onions.
Now, in this pot here, this large Dutch oven, I have 4 tablespoons of unsalted melted butter that's been melting away over medium-high heat.
And to that I'm going to add all 4 pounds of our sliced onions.
And along with those sliced onions, I'm gonna add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of table salt.
So we're gonna mix this all together.
The sugar and salt are gonna do two things in here.
One, they're both gonna help pull moisture out of the onion.
That moisture also contains some sugars.
Those natural sugars will eventually caramelize.
And the added sugar also helps expedite that caramelization process.
So just gives it a little bit of a boost.
And for this I used just basic yellow onions.
You could use white onions if you wanted to.
There's no reason to use sweet onions like Walla Walla or Vidalia onions.
They're just gonna become too sweet at the end of cooking.
And these onions will cook down to be completely sweet enough on their own.
Okay, now at this stage, we're gonna put the lid on the pot and we're gonna let the onions cook for about 20 minutes.
Now, the lid is gonna trap the steam in there, and that steam is gonna create a hot cooking environment, and it's gonna help the onions break down and release their moisture.
♪♪ Okay, it's been 20 minutes, so we can take a look at our onions.
You can see they've released a ton of moisture.
They're also very, very soft at this point.
And that's exactly what we're looking for.
So at this point, we're gonna continue to cook the onions for about 5 to 10 minutes to drive off all this excess liquid in the bottom of the pot so we can actually begin the caramelization process.
It's been about 10 minutes, and you can see we've driven off a fair amount of liquid from these onions and a little bit of fond which is the browning that happens from the caramelization of the sugar that's started to form on the bottom of the pot.
And that's great.
So we're gonna reduce the heat at this point to medium, and we're gonna cook these onions slowly and give them a stir every now and then until they are really deep, golden brown and they've really developed their sweetness.
Now, if those little bits of fond on the bottom of the pot start to burn or get too dark, you want to just be diligent about scraping them up.
And if you're unable to scrape them up with the spoon, you could add a tablespoon or so of water just to help lift them off the bottom of the pot.
♪♪ So it's been about 40 minutes, and you can see that our caramelized onions have changed quite a bit in their color, their look, and their texture.
They are fully caramelized at this point.
And you can also notice that there's a significant amount of fond in the bottom of the pot.
Those bits of fond have a lot of flavor.
We're going to add a cup of red wine to deglaze those bits of fond.
And once we pull them up, they're gonna incorporate into the body of the soup.
So in with all these caramelized onions, which are pretty sweet, we didn't want any more sweetness.
We found that a cup of dry red wine added enough complexity to it.
Bring this to a simmer and cook this until nearly all that wine has evaporated, And we're gonna use our wooden spoon to just scrape up those bits of fond on the bottom of the pot while we go.
Okay, you can see that the red wine is nearly evaporated.
At this point, we're gonna add 8 cups of beef broth.
Since beef broth is a predominant flavor in this soup, you want to make sure you get a good-quality beef broth.
So again, 8 cups of beef broth going into the soup.
And then on top of that we're going to add 1/2 teaspoon of table salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
2 bay leaves, and 4 sprigs of fresh thyme.
So we'll just give that a little stir.
We'll increase the heat a little bit and bring this to a boil.
Our soup has come to a boil now, and we're gonna reduce the heat to medium low.
And we're gonna let it simmer gently for about 30 minutes, during which time it's gonna reduce and concentrate in flavor.
While that's going on, we can turn our attention to the croutons.
Traditionally, when you get a crock of French onion soup at a restaurant, the croutons are in a disk that cover the entire surface of the soup.
So I have 6 ounces of a baguette here, and we're just gonna cut this into 1-inch pieces.
So if there was an aha moment for us when we were developing this recipe, it was to cut the croutons into bite-size pieces so they would actually fit in your spoon and fit in your mouth.
Just gonna split it into about four pieces lengthwise.
And cut each one of these in half and crosswise into about 1-inch pieces.
Okay, so now we can add our croutons to our bowl.
And we're gonna toast these in the oven for a bit until they're nice and crispy.
In order to help with the toasting, we're gonna add 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
We'll just stir them around to coat all the croutons evenly with the oil and the salt and pepper.
We can just throw that onto a sheet pan and spread them out into an even layer, And we'll put these in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes till their nice and crisp and golden brown.
♪♪ The croutons are fully cooled.
You can see they're nice and crisp at this point.
And our soup has also been simmering for a good half hour, and it's reduced and concentrated in flavor so we can go ahead and turn that off.
We're just gonna fish out the bay leaves and the thyme sprigs.
And at this point, this is our last opportunity to season the soup before we put it into our crocks, so we want to give it a taste and see if the salt and pepper is correct.
That's pretty well seasoned.
I'll add a touch of salt, though.
And crank of black pepper.
And stir that in.
Okay, now at this point we're ready to go ahead and portion our soup into our traditional French onion soup crocks.
If you don't have these kind of crocks, you could at this point put cheese on top of the crouton piles, put these back into the oven, portion the soup into regular soup bowls, and then use a spatula to scoop all these croutons and cheese on top of those bowls.
But we're gonna stick with the traditional way today.
It's nice, to prevent drips, if you scrape it on the bottom of the pot first before you transfer it to your bowl.
And I'm putting all these crocks onto a baking sheet.
This is gonna make it easier for us to transfer all the crocks into the oven at once rather than fumbling around with individual crocks.
Now we're ready for the best part of the recipe, which is the cheese and the croutons.
So when you're eating this, it should feel slightly indulgent, almost like there's too much cheese, and that means you're doing it right.
So we're gonna start off with about 1 cup of Gruyère we're gonna add and divide among these soup crocks.
So it's about a heaping 2 tablespoons per soup.
And this is slightly different than the traditional method where you just put the croutons on top and then the cheese.
We wanted to get some of that cheese into the soup as well.
And now we're gonna add our croutons.
Scatter them on top of the soup.
We're gonna finish with our remaining cup of Gruyère cheese.
Again, about 2 1/2 tablespoons per soup crock, Okay, and we're finally gonna top this off with a little bit of shredded Parmesan.
We shredded this on the large holes of a box grater, and we have about 1 1/2 ounces here.
Again, so it's about a heaping tablespoon or so per soup.
We've preheated the oven to 500 degrees, and we're gonna throw these crocks into the oven and let them cook until the soup is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted and gooey and golden brown.
♪♪ Ooh, these look gorgeous.
Okay, so it's been about 7 minutes.
You can see the soup is bubbling around the edges, the cheese is melted.
And it looks fantastic.
Smells fantastic too.
So at this point, the soup is extremely hot.
You can tell that from all the bubbles.
We're gonna let it sit before we dig in, just to give the cheese a little chance to set up.
Okay, our French onion soup has had a few minutes to cool down, so we can transfer it to our plate.
A lot of times with recipes for French onion soup, you'll see a lot of cheese that's melted down the sides of the crock.
I think a lot of that is just for show because it's completely unnecessary.
What we did is we put all the cheese in there so we don't have a hard-to-clean crock on the outside, and we're gonna actually eat all the cheese we bought.
Alright, it's time to dig in.
Although it didn't seem like very much red wine in the beginning, you can really taste what it's adding to the soup.
It's very complex for so few ingredients.
The cheese and the croutons add a lot of textural appeal to the soup.
It's perfect for any special-occasion dinner.
It comes together relatively easily after you're done caramelizing those onions.
But the payoff for that little bit of work is just tremendous.
So for a great version of this classic soup, start with a solid batch of caramelized onions.
Deglaze those onions with a little bit of red wine.
And, finally, cut the croutons into bite-sized pieces.
From "Cook's Country," a special-occasion-worthy French onion soup.
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