The other night I made French Onion Soup for my family. It was the perfect thing after a long cold day. This may sound funny, but I have definite opinions about French Onion Soup. True, I have definite opinions about lots of things – you don’t have to know me long to know that – but in case you wondered, they do include French Onion Soup.
Even though I have these definite opinions, I am not so much of a purist that I feel the need to make the stock from scratch. My hat’s off to you if you’ve got the energy for that, but in this case I will happily settle for good quality beef broth (I use either the Imagine or Pacific brand) and lovely fresh herbs to flavor it.
I don’t remember where I first tasted this beloved winter soup. Probably some time in my childhood, as my mother was a devotee of Le Cordon Bleu and Julia Child in the 70′s. My first real memory of it though was in college, when I worked in a great French restaurant in Chicago and we served a delicious version of French Onion Soup. I remember that whenever a school group would come in (to experience a true French meal) this dish would be on their menu – after all it was relatively cheap, very filling and easy on the inexperienced palate.
In time I’ve gone on to eat many a bowl of French Onion, and hence have formed these strong opinions about it.
The first thing I have to insist upon is that it mustn’t be too sweet! I am always disappointed when French Onion Soup is too sweet. Yes, you caramelize the onions and this brings out their sweetness, but please do not add sugar to them. And I always use yellow onions, or sometimes a combination of yellow and red, but never a sweet onion like Walla Walla. The regular ones are plenty sweet for my taste. Besides, if you’re drinking a lovely red wine with your soup – and I certainly hope you are – an overly sweet broth will ruin the wine.
My other rule – the only time I ever order French Onion Soup in a restaurant is when I’m dining alone. I thought about this once when I was in Seattle on business. Finding myself with a free evening, I walked to one of my favorite restaurants, Cafe Campagne. I settled in at the cozy bar and ordered a lovely winter salad followed by French Onion Soup. With a couple of glasses of Cote du Rhone and my book, it was a perfect meal.
It was soon after the bartender placed the hot soup in front of me that I had this revelation about it being the perfect thing to order when you’re alone. First of all, having just been pulled from under the broiler, the soup can’t possibly be eaten right away, unless you don’t mind scorching your tongue. If you’re having dinner with friends and they’ve all ordered other, cooler appetizers (like anything else on the menu, for instance) you’re going to be rushing to stay at the same pace with them. On your own, there’s no rush. Read a few pages, check the soup to see if it’s cool enough yet, read a few more pages, then try again.
Once it cools down enough to eat, and you dig into the oozy, gooey melted cheese, you’ll be reminded once again why you’re glad you’re alone. No one has to see the stringy cheese dribbling down your chin!
French Onion Soup
By January 1, 2013Published:
- Yield: 6-8 Servings
This is a combination of several recipes I've tried over the years. I've settled on this as my favorite version.
- 4 large onions white or red or a combination
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups red wine
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1/2 quarts beef stock
- 1 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
- 2-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper
- 6-8 slices sturdy bread slightly dry
- 2 cups gruyere coarsely grated
- 1 cup hard goat cheese (I use a wine cured one)
- Peel and thinly slice the onions. If you've got one, you could use a mandoline for this step. Then warm the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and a good pinch of salt. Stir the onions to coat with the oil and leave them to caramelize. This will take about an hour, stirring occasionally.
- Once they are caramelized add the flour and stir so that it looses it's raw flavor for about 10 minutes. This will also cause a bit of browning and sticking to the pan. That's good.
- Next add the wine and let it come to a boil. Scraping up all the good crustiness in the pan as it does. Tie the thyme and bay leaf into a little cheesecloth satchel, or put them in a large infusing ball to add to the soup.
- Add all the rest of the ingredients, through the herbs and let simmer for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile grate the cheeses and slice the bread to put on top of the soup.
- When you're ready to eat preheat the broiler. Fill oven-proof bowls with the warm soup.
- On top of each bowl lay one piece of bread and then sprinkle generously with a combination of the cheeses.
- Put the bowls on a sheet pan and slide under the broiler. Broil for about 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is nicely browned and bubbly.
- Being very careful with the hot bowls, remove from the oven and set on a dinner plate.