Classic French Onion Soup
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 pounds yellow onions halved and thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 8 cups good-quality beef, chicken or mushroom stock or a combination
- 1 bay leaf
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons brandy or whiskey optional
- 6 thick slices hearty or stale bread
- 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere or other swiss cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
- In a Dutch oven over large, deep, skillet, heat butter and one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook them, stirring occasionally until softened and liquid has begun to evaporate - about 20-25 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook the onions gently, stirring occasionally until they are deeply golden brown - about 50 minutes to an hour.
- Meanwhile, pour the stock in another Dutch oven and add the herbs. Bring the stock to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover and allow to steep for flavor while the onions cook.
- Once the onions are fully caramelized, stir the garlic into them. Then stir the flour throughout the onions and cook for a minute or two. Gradually stir in wine and turn off the heat.
- Now transfer all the onion mixture into the stock mixture and stir to combine. Heat to a simmer and let cook, uncovered, until the flavors are blended, about 30 minutes. Stir in the brandy or whiskey and taste for salt and pepper seasoning. Keep the pot warm on low heat.
- Preheat the broiler to high. Place your ovenproof bowls on a sheet pan and fill each with soup, making sure to get plenty of onions. Lay one piece of bread gently on top of the soup and then divide the cheese equally among the bowls, on top of the bread.
- Slide the sheet pan with the bowls under the broiler and watch closely. The soup is ready when the cheese is melted, bubbly and golden brown. You may need to rotate the pan to get everything evenly browned.
- Once the soup is done remove the sheet pan from the oven and very carefully transfer the hot bowls of soup to rest on a dinner plate.
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!