Wednesday, February 22, 2012

French Onion Taters

I had a wonderful accident. Through a series of events, I got myself hopelessly addicted the french onion soup, then baked potatoes, then became obsessed with combining the two. AND THEN I ran out of wine. *GASP* What a horrible, terrible thing of a lush home-cook to do. I love cooking with alcohol. Sometimes I even add it to the food! I kid - also, I stole that from an apron. But I do enjoy cooking with it. It adds a great sweetness (alcohol is sugar... SCIENCE!) and depending on how you pair the food, can sometimes add a little something special and depth to a dish. And my favorite thing to do with caramelized onions is to get a good color by adding wine.

Now, on one fateful day, I had a plan. French-onion-topped Baked Potatoes. I can hear you wiping the drool off your keyboard, so I'll wait.

Better? Okay.

Through practice, I already had a pretty good idea for the onions, and how to condense a wonderful soup flavor into a thick tater-topper. And I had the onions sliced and cooking before I realized I was out of cooking wine. And before I opened the only expensive wine I had in my bar, a bottle caught the corner of my eye. That's right, an unassuming Southern friend opened my eyes to a whole new way of life. WHISKEY

Okay, so it's Bourbon. Drop the pitchfork, kthx.

And so began my whiskey obsession. I happened to have some cheap bourbon/whiskey on hand at the time, but I can assure you that this cooking adventure turned my eyes upward, I met a guiding white light, and went out and spent a lot of money on a good bottle of Irish whiskey that I promptly drank in a week instead of my usual wine. I'm a whiskey convert. When I first smelled from the bottle, the whiskey smelled smokey and deep and it just smelled amber. Wine is good. Don't get me wrong. But as soon as I smelled this, I knew I had to have onions with it. And it. Was. Tremendous. And let us say, Amen.

French-Onion Taters
Note: this would still be wonderful if you used wine or cooking sherry instead. Really. This was just *really* good this way.

Ingredients (for 2 servings)
2 baker potatoes (I used 2 half-pound russets, but you can use whatever floats your boat)
olive oil
1-2 onion, sliced thinly**
1 Tbl butter
1 Tbl olive oil
1-2 oz whiskey (or wine)
1 pckg beef concentrate (you can also use 2 oz beef broth if this is hard to find)
About 1 cup swiss or gruyere, shredded

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a fork to stab the potatoes all over. Rub the potatoes lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap in aluminum foil and bake for 45-60 minutes (depending on size).

2) About 20 minutes later... Preheat a pan and melt together butter and olive oil. Add the onion and add salt.

3) Cook the onions until they start to become translucent and brown slightly (took me about 20 minutes). At this point, add the whiskey and concentrate/broth. Cook until the alcohol cooks off.

4) Continue to cook until it become thick and melty. (They will have cooked down a lot)

5) This timing should have your potatoes done just after you add the alcohol. Check for doneness by poking with a sharp knife. When they're done....

Dress your potatoes as you prefer - I like to split mine, add too much butter, a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, and some salt (potatoes love salt).

Split the onions between the two potatoes and finish with swiss cheese. If you want to get fancy (and I love fancy!), throw (okay, please don't throw your potatoes) put them under the broiler until the cheese gets just before burning (the science of cheese... if you burn, you've gone too long. Okay - just check it a lot - broilers are tricky).

**I used just one onion, and it was fine, but it cooks down so much, that I really would have rathered my own whole caramelized onion. Use your judgement based on size of your onion, and love of caramelized onions.