Even though this winter’s been mild (damn La Niña!), I’ve decided to make one soup every week. This week, French Onion Soup, the classic soup derived from 17th century French country cooking. The sweet, caramelized onions with cognac-flavored beef broth are perfect for this time of year. While this dish, adapted from the excellent cookbook Soups and Stews, takes a little longer than some soups, because the onions have to be cooked down pretty well for the caramelization process to succeed–the sugars in the onions have to melt, giving them that nice brown color. But it’s still fairly easy to make and every bit worth your time.
Traditional French Onion Soup
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 3 Tbsp cooking oil either light olive oil or vegetable oil
- 2 pounds onions thinly sliced (if you have a mandolin, a great time to use it).
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 quarts beef stock or low sodium beef broth
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 cup cognac or other brandy, or whiskey
- Slices of french bread about 1/2 inch thick
- 1/2 pound Gruyère cheese or swiss
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
In a large pot or dutch oven, melt the butter with 2T oil over low heat. Add the onions and salt. The onions should be almost to the top of your pot, but they will reduce in size considerably. Cover and cook until the onions are very soft, stirring occasionally. Should take about 15 minutes. Then raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the onions are brown, about 10 minutes, stirring to make sure they don't burn. Add the flour and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring to coat.
Add the wine and use it to scrape the bottom of the pot -- you'll want those bits! Add the stock, thyme, and more salt. Raise the heat to high and bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Simmer partially covered for 40 minutes.
While that's simmering, cut the french bread into sizes that will fit your bowls. Heat the broiler. Put bread on a baking sheet, brush with remaining oil, and brown on both sides.
When soup's done simmering, add the cognac and lots of pepper. Heat the oven to 400°. Place 4-6 oven-proof bowls on a baking sheet and ladle the soup into the bowls. Float the toasted bread in the soup and top with the Gruyère. Bake the soup until the cheese is bubbling, about 10 minutes. You can broil it too if you want it brown. Remove and top with chopped parsley.