The first time I had French Onion soup, it was salty and not particularly good. Despite this, I have always been drawn back to this soup. How could I resist the bubbly melty cheesy goodness!! The best French Onion soup I have had, was in Paris at Au Pied de Cochon in Les Halles. It’s probably a tourist trap, but who cares! After freezing my butt off in sub-zero weather in early January, it sure tasted good!!
The French Onion Soup I have described here is adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. I have reviewed and described the recipe based on three major components – the ingredients, the technique or process and finally the taste.
I made several changes to accommodate what I had in my pantry that week. I used red onions instead of white as that is what I usually cook with. I think this resulted in a sweeter soup. Also, I used home-made chicken and lamb stock and half a cup of dry sherry instead of the white wine. I didn’t feel like opening a bottle of wine just for the recipe (hard to believe, right!). I didn’t have a loaf of country bread lying around at home but I did have a perfectly good loaf of multigrain sandwich bread. So I put it to use instead! Also, skipped on the garnish of Cognac and brandy since we were all out.
However, I did go out of my way and buy Comte cheese for the topping. In my opinion, the cheese should not be messed with. It is the crowning glory and substituting Cheddar or American cheese here will definitely not be the same!
This recipe is a tear jerker – literally! Although, the ingredient list makes it look simple, those darn onions almost make you want to give up midway. It also doesn’t help that Dorie has this persnickety way of chopping the onions. “Quarter the onions lengthwise and then chop them cross-wise!” Really, like if I just slice them my regular old way they are going to taste any different? However, I think her technique results in slices of different lengths which may bring a different textural element to the soup. I couldn’t really tell though, after all that caramelization.
I also found that it took me longer than an hour to caramelize the onions. So I played around with the heat and increased it to high towards the last 30 minutes or so. If you become impatient and end up increasing the heat like I did, just make sure you keep an eye on it, so that it doesn’t scorch the bottom of your pot and even worse – ruin your soup.
Finally, I don’t have fancy oven proof soup bowls to put into the broiler to melt the cheese. So I improvised and used these terracotta serving bowls that I brought back from India. Typically they are used to cook and serve curries but I have also successfully baked apple crisps in them! It turns out that they work well for French Onion soup too! It added a touch of ethnic flair to the final presentation!
From a taste standpoint, this was a satisfying soup. Hubby thought it was a tad sweet and asked if I had added sugar to it. I think the red onions are to blame. Perhaps Spanish onions would have resulted in a less sweet broth. I didn’t mind the sweetness though! Dear Daughter pretty much inhaled the leftovers the next day! So that’s two votes against one and of course, the girls rule!
Finally, the recipe:
Here’s my modified recipe with pictures along the way.
Yields 6 appetizer size servings or 2 to 3 main course size servings
- 4 – 5 large onions (I used red, but the original recipe calls for Spanish onions)
- 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter
- 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup dry wine or 1/2 cup extra dry sherry
- 8 cups of any stock or broth you have handy. You can also use water with a vegetable or chicken bouillon cube, if you prefer
- Bread – country bread is preferable, but a thick slice of multigrain sandwich bread worked for me
- Comte cheese – enough of this to top off the bread (around a cup, coarsely grated)
- Broiler proof soup bowls!
- If you are using frozen homemade broth or stock, start defrosting this now.
- Slice the onions. Dorie calls for quartering the onions length wise (i.e. each quarter will have the root end intact). Then chopping them crosswise (discarding the root end). I did this, but I don’t think it really matters as long as you get them all sliced to an even thickness. Don’t slice them too thin though as they will turn to mush in the caramelization process.
- Heat olive oil and butter in your preferred soup pot. Dorie suggested an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven and I used the same too.
- Add the onions and garlic after the butter has melted. Season with some salt, cut the heat to low and let the onions cook for while. Keep checking on them every so often to make sure they are not burning. If after the first hour, it still hasn’t reached the deep caramel color pictured below, then turn up the heat a bit. However, make sure you keep an eye on it because the point is to caramelize the onions not char them!!
- Once you are satisfied with the color, stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes.
- Now add the wine or sherry or skip completely. Let it cook for a minute or two.
- Pour in the broth/stock, bring to a boil and then simmer for around 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
- Preheat the broiler now and cut the bread to a size that fits into your soup bowl.
- Toast the bread slightly using your preferred method. This could be in a toaster or on a dry skillet or under the broiler.
- Place the bowls on a baking sheet, ladle the soup into the bowls and top each bowl with a slice of toasted bread. The bread can either float like a crouton in the middle of the bowl or completely cover the surface of the bowl. Personally, I prefer the latter!! More surface area to catch the melty cheese!
- Grate the Comte cheese on top of the bread and now place the baking sheet with the soup bowls under your broiler. Broil till the cheese has melted (this was exactly two minutes for me).
- Serve IMMEDIATELY and enjoy!!
The soup (without the toppings) can be frozen in the freezer for up to 3 months. However, do make sure you bring it back to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes before topping with bread and cheese.