Sure, I’ve written about French Onion Soup before, but now that there’s a slight chill in the air and people are feeling sort of “autumny,” I couldn’t resist revisiting one of my favorite recipes. If I could have video’d the cheers and excited hugs last weekend when I announced I would be making my soup for dinner, you would’ve thought I’d told the boys that it had all been a huge mistake, and the Red Sox really were going to the World Series! But let’s not go there.
As I wrote previously, the inspiration for my soup is Thomas Keller’s recipe in the Bouchon cookbook. I cheat a little by using store-bought beef stock, but I am religious about not rushing the onions. They need to be cooked to perfect caramelization in order to coax out the sweetest, onioniest flavor. That usually takes over three hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so — an ideal activity for a Sunday at home, watching football and doing other projects around the house (not-so-ideal for a random Wednesday night when you’re trying to pull it together at 6:00 to feed the hungry masses). And when I go to all that trouble, I always try to make at least a little extra for the freezer. That’s usually a pipe dream, though, with four boys whose concept of portion control is “however much there is.”
Bon appètit…and for your amusement (er, amazement), here are the “Before” and “After” glamour shots of 12 onions:
French Onion Soup
Adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller
- 12 large onions (I use either all sweet onions or a combination of sweet, Spanish and yellow)
- 6 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted)
- 7 quarts beef stock
- 3 tablespoons flour
- Sherry wine vinegar
- Kosher salt
- 6-8 bay leaves
- 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 32 black peppercorns
CROUTONS & CHEESE
- 1 large baguette
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound aged Gruyère, Comtè or Emmenthaler cheese (Note: make sure it’s aged cheese to get a good crust, otherwise you’ll end up with a greasy, gloppy mess!)
Cut the onions: Slice each onion in half, from root to tip. Cut off the root and tip ends; peel. Face the onion cut side up and remove the core by notching out in a “v” along the center of the onion, and removing any solid, flat piece of onion. Then lay the onion cut side down, with the root and tip ends at 12:00 and 6:00. You will see vertical “stripes” running along the onion skin. Make very thin vertical slices through the onion, almost following the stripes as a guide, repositioning the onion as necessary. You will end up with perfect c-shaped slices.
Caramelize the onions: The key here is to release moisture and caramelize the onions rather than sweat them, so you want to cook them horizontally in a pan rather than vertically a tall pot. As you can see, I use a roasting pan, and place it across two burners of my stove. Melt the butter in the pan, and add the sliced onions, tossing to coat. Place over medium heat, and stir every 15 minutes or so, adjusting the heat as necessary. As the onions cook and release moisture, you will need to lower the heat. Have patience with this step. When you think the onions look nice and golden, resist the temptation to think they’re done. Keep cooking until they’re almost mahogany, continuing to stir frequently to make sure they’re not burning in any spots. This can take up to three hours.
Make the soup: Once the onions are cooked, raise the heat to medium/medium-high and sift the flour over them. Stir for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to burn the onions. Add one quart of the beef stock to the onions, and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Transfer the onions and stock into a stock pot. Add the remaining beef stock. Make a sachet by placing the bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns on a large piece of cheesecloth and either tying the ends together or securing with kitchen twine. Drop the sachet into the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for one hour. After an hour, add salt to taste (amount will vary depending on what brand of beef stock you use), and add several drops of Sherry wine vinegar. Taste again, and adjust the salt and vinegar in very small increments. (Remember: you can always add more; you can’t remove if you add too much!)
Make the croutons: Preheat the broiler. Cut the baguette on a diagonal into ¼” slices. Brush both sides with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Broil until golden brown, turning halfway through. Set aside.
Prepare the cheese: Use a cheese slicer to make thin slices of the cheese. When the block of cheese starts to get unwieldy, grate the rest of it.
Assemble the soup: Put 6 ovenproof soup crocks on a baking sheet. Carefully fill each crock with hot soup. Place croutons gently atop the soup, cutting in half if necessary to cover the entire top. Place cheese slices on top of the croutons, draping slightly over the sides of the crock. Fill in any gaps with the grated cheese. Carefully place the baking pan under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbling and has made a golden brown crust. Remove and serve.
Makes at least 6 hearty servings, with leftovers