(Classic French Onion Soup – ‘my little love’ - recipe in post)
I can still remember the first time I had good
French onion soup. Sitting down with a friend on a chilly night, at a fancy little restaurant neither of us had been to before. We unsuspectingly ordered a bowl to share, and I can clearly recall my doubts that a simple soup of onions would satisfy.
The dish arrived, still bubbling and hot. Our spoons dove through the crust of cheese and bread, beneath which I discovered rich, savory broth, sweet caramelized onions, and a mingling of flavors unlike any other. We ate gingerly, savoring each bite, wanting it to last. This was an experience I would later seek out again and again.
Unfortunately, good French onion soup is hard to find. Restaurants often skimp on the ingredients, short-cut the caramelization, or over-season the finished product. After having my share of salty, watered down broth, I decided to see if I could do justice to my picture-perfect memory of what this soup should be.
The results did not disappoint. Rich and hearty, this soup warms you through-and-through. It would be perfect for cold winter evenings, brisk fall days, or any time in between. Simple, and simply divine.
French onion soup can be made with any variety of onions, though yellow are probably the most traditional. Because the long caramelization process brings out so much sweetness already, some prefer not to use sweet varieties. I made my soup especially sweet, and loved it that way – but feel free to use what you have, what you like, or even a combination of different varieties.
The most important (and most time-consuming) part of making a good French onion soup is proper caramelization. Generally, this would mean standing over the stove for a few hours, slowly wilting and constantly stirring the onions. Here, however, I’ve adapted a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated
which suggests doing the bulk of the cooking in the oven, eliminating the need for constant attention and leaving you free to do other things. I found that this method also helps to draw out more flavor, and produced fabulous results.
Recipe note: to make the soup vegetarian, substitute mushroom (preferred) or vegetable stock – to make it vegan, substitute the butter and cheese with your favorite alternatives.
Classic French Onion Soup
6-8 large sweet or yellow onions (4-5 lbs.), sliced
3 TBSP unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper, plus more to taste
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine (or dry red wine)
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped or minced
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 cups low-sodium beef stock (or use all beef or all chicken, for a richer or lighter soup)
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme, bundled with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
1 baguette (or other crusty French bread)
3-4 TBSP olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Freshly sliced or grated Gruyere cheese (or Swiss, or Asiago)
Freshly grated Parmesan, optional
Bread bowls for serving in, optional (a small boule of sourdough would be lovely)
Preheat oven to 400f.
Halve or quarter the onions and slice to 1/8th-1/4 inch thickness.
Thoroughly grease (or coat with non-stick cooking spray) the inner sides and bottom of a heavy bottomed pot or lidded Dutch oven. Add the sliced onions, butter, salt, and pepper. Cover and place on the middle rack of your preheated oven, and cook for 60 minutes.
Remove the pot and give the onions a stir – they should be wilted by about half their original volume. Return the lid, leaving it cracked slightly for steam to escape, and cook for another 60 minutes.
Stop again to stir the onions, scraping down the sides of the pot. Return it to the oven once more, lid ajar, and bake for another 30-45 minutes.
At this point the onions should be a light golden brown, with a fair amount of liquid in the bottom of the pot.
Carefully move the pot from the oven to the stove top, and place over medium-high heat. Stirring frequently, cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until the onions begin to deepen in color and stick to the bottom of the pot. This may take more or less time depending on your onions, so keep an eye on things and stir, stir, stir!
Once the moisture is gone and the onions begin to stick, add 1/4 cup of the water to deglaze the pan. Scrape the fond (browned bits) from the bottom with a wooden spoon or spatula, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has completely evaporated. Repeat with another 1/4 cup of water, and finally the last of the water, stirring and letting all of the moisture evaporate between each addition. The onions will turn a very deep, rich brown color. Reduce the heat if necessary to keep them from burning.
Stir in the wine, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes, letting the wine reduce slightly.
(Optionally, at this point the onions can be cooled and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for quick soup preparation a day or two later. Continue with the recipe as directed.)
Pour in the stocks and sherry, and add the thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes.
Pull out and discard the thyme and bay leaf, and season to taste with more salt and pepper.
(Optionally, at this point the soup can be cooled and stored in the fridge for up to several days before serving, or can be frozen indefinitely for later use. Chilling overnight will allow the soup to develop more flavor. To serve, continue with the recipe as directed.)
Preheat oven to 400f.
In a small dish, whisk together 3-4 TBSP olive oil and 1 clove minced garlic. Set aside (can be covered and set in the fridge for an hour or so ahead for a stronger flavor, but do not make this oil more than a day in advance).
Cut the baguette at an angle into 1/2 inch thick slices (or, chop bread into 1/2 inch cubes to make croutons). Brush both sides (or toss croutons) with the garlic/olive oil, and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Toast for 5-6 minutes, then flip the slices (or stir croutons) and return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Preheat broiler, and check that your rack is positioned so that the tops of your bowls or ramekins will be 5-6 inches from the heating element.
Ladle soup into oven-safe bowls, ramekins, or hollowed-out bread bowls. Top each with slice(s) of toasted bread or croutons, and generously cover with cheese. Optionally, add a pinch of parmesan over the top for a touch more flavor.
Broil until the cheese is bubbly and brown – this should only take a few minutes, so keep a close eye on them!
This soup goes out to my friend Jen
, who took it upon herself to mail me a box of the sweetest onions I’ve ever tasted.
are sheer horticultural brilliance – an incredibly sweet, mild onion that can be found nowhere else in the world. Jen describes the flavor as an ‘onion hug’ and I can’t disagree.
Thank you so much for my onion hug, Jen!