As you can probably tell, sometimes I like to get a little whacky with my recipes. I think it's my way of not taking food, or myself, too seriously at all. I mean, let's face it, food is fun! It's meant to be played with in creative ways. Unique presentations of some old favorites are always a good thing; they bring an element of surprise and freshness to a classic that we love and know well, making it interesting and even a touch whimsical. And the idea of combining the best of two things — bringing together those best qualities that are enjoyed about each on an individual level — has always been quite appealing to me in the realm of food. As a big fan of both finger-food appetizers that can be eaten in two to three bites, and savory, hot soups that need a little extra time to be appreciated, I thought that maybe, just maybe, there was some potential in bringing the two together in a, shall I say, slightly “unconventional” way? So when I wanted to put a new little twist on the old favorite of French Onion Soup, I got to imagining just how I could make it into a fun finger-food that could be munched on in a few bites.
From the time I was a kid, I have just adored French Onion Soup. Whenever it would be there listed under the appetizer section of the menu, I would almost always beg my parents to let me order up a bowl to revel in. The hot, savory, beefy broth; the slight sweetness from the caramelized onions and the addition of sherry and herbs; and, of course, the best part: the ooey-gooey, melted cheese that perfectly covered the crisp little crouton toast beneath, sealing the entire contents of that hot bowl right up, and tucking everything deliciously in like a creamy, comforting blanket. Sheer yummy-ness! Which of course is exactly why it makes for the perfect appetizer to play around with and put together in a new way, while still keeping true to the spirit and flavor of the original. “Stix” of fried cheese coated in a crispy breading with a rich, caramelized onion and Guinness beer sauce to dip them in? Ooh-wee...now that sounds like a perfect little union between a tasty finger-food and a hot, delicious soup if I've ever heard of one — an “onion-y” union, if you will.
Getting a little whacky with my food is what I'm all about when I'm looking for a fun twist on a favorite appetizer. Crispy, gooey, savory and lightly sweet, with a kick of depth from a smooth, dark stout, makes this delectably whimsical appetizer, this “two-in-one-er”, a great treat for big fingers as well as little ones, to pick up, dip and enjoy; especially when they can't decide between a finger-food, or soup!
Taste what's good and pass it on.
“French Onion Soup” Stix with Crispy-Fried Cheese and Savory, Caramelized Onion & Guinness Beer Dipping Sauce
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(Makes 12 stix, serves 3-4)
• Vegetable oil for frying
12 mozzarella string cheese sticks
½ cup flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs, processed in food processor until very fine
¼ cup grated parmesan
• Black pepper
1 teaspoon dry thyme
½ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped for garnish
• Caramelized Onion & Guinness Beer Dipping Sauce (recipe below)
-Add enough vegetable oil to a large, heavy-bottom pan (or cast iron pan) so that it comes about 1-2” up the side, and slowly bring the temperature of the oil up to 350°.
-Prepare your “breading” station by adding the flour to a medium-size bowl; next, add the eggs into another medium-sized bowl, and whisk them; next, add the panko breadcrumbs and the parmesan to another medium-sized bowl, along with another pinch of the salt and pepper, plus the dry thyme and paprika, and combine to incorporate; dredge each mozzarella string cheese stick in the flour, then the eggs (allowing the excess to drip off), and then add into the panko breadcrumbs/parmesan, pressing firmly to get as much adherence as possible; repeat the process until all mozzarella string cheese sticks are breaded; next, place the breaded stix into the freezer to firm for 2-3 hours. (Don't step this step, as the cheese will melt too quickly before the breading is crispy, otherwise.)
-To fry, carefully drop about 3-4 mozzarella sticks into the hot oil, and allow them to fry for about 2 minutes, or until a deep golden brown and the cheese is gooey; remove from oil and place onto a paper towel-lined plate or platter, and season with a pinch of salt/black pepper while still hot; repeat the process until all mozzarella sticks are fried, and then sprinkle over top the chopped parsley to garnish.
-Serve while hot, along with a ramekin of warm, Caramelized Onion & Guinness Beer Dipping Sauce on the side.
Caramelized Onion & Guinness Beer Dipping Sauce ingredients:
(makes 2 cups)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 extra large yellow onions, quartered and sliced very thinly (*see note)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon dry thyme
½ cup Guinness stout beer (or any stout)
¾ cup beef stock
1 ½ teaspoons worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
(*This will seem like an absurd amount of onions, but trust me; I will cook way down!!)
-Place a large, heavy-bottom pan or pot over medium heat, and add in the butter and oil; once melted, add in the sliced onions along with the brown sugar, the salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning and dry thyme, and stir together to combine; allow the onions to caramelized, slowly, for about 30-35 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent them from burning to the bottom (add a bit more oil, if needed); after about 35 minutes, and once the onions have begun to become golden and slightly caramelized, add in the Guinness, and allow it to reduce for about 30 seconds; next, add in the beef stock, and allow that to reduce for a few minutes until mostly reduced and “jam”-like, but still slightly saucy; next, add in the worcestershire sauce and the balsamic vinegar, stir to combine and incorporate, and then turn the heat off and add in the lemon juice and chopped parsley to finish. (The total caramelizing time is about 45-50 minutes)
-Serve the dipping sauce warm with the Crispy-Fried Cheese Stix.