French Onion soup is quite simple to make if you let the food processor do the chopping for you. I’ve made several variations of this soup and this is my best yet. Cooks note: Try serving the soup with an apple & gruyere grilled sandwich in lieu of the bread on top of the soup.
There are a few significant elements that will take this soup from so-so to outstanding …
- Caramelizing the onions. It takes a while but if you aren’t careful 5 pounds of onions could be down the sink in a short amount of time. The first 10 minutes aren’t crucial as it takes a while for the water to cook out of the onions (cover your pot to wilt quicker). Once the onions are sticking to the bottom of the pan you’ve reached the critical stage. You can’t let them burn… it’s about impossible to remove the burned black dots that will linger through your soup. Let them brown and then scrape the bottom of the pan to get all of the bits off and repeat this process for 20 minutes. Eventually those brown bits will stain the onions.
- Beef Stock. My favorite is Kitchen Basics. It has rich color and tons of flavor and its not costly at only a few dollars for a 1 quart box at Central Market.
- Sherry and Brandy. The combination is necessary for that aromatic note the soup is famous for having. I’ve made it in the past with only red wine and the depth of flavor is not the same. If you aren’t a brandy drinker and wonder what you will do with the leftovers – save it for Sangria in the summer.
- 4 T unsalted butter
- 2-3 T olive oil
- 5 pounds onions, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup red wine
- 3/4 cup brandy
- 1/4 cup sherry
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 8 cups beef broth
- 1 baguette, sliced
- 1/2 pound grated Gruyere
Melt 1/2 stick of butter and olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper and cook until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 35-40 minutes. Add the wine, brandy and sherry, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the liquor has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5-10 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir. Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn’t burn, and cook for 10 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Now add the beef broth, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
When you’re ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the slices with the Gruyere and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
Ladle the soup in bowls and float several of the Gruyere croutons on top.
Alternative method: Ladle the soup into bowls, top each with 2 slices of bread and top with cheese. Put the bowls into the oven to toast the bread and melt the cheese.