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French Onion Soup

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 …

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

INGREDIENTS

  • 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

DIRECTIONS

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.

Serves 8-10.

Steamed Mussels with Spicy Red Pepper Aioli

Thank you Anne Burrell… you are brilliant and I love your food.

Steamed mussels have become a favorite of mine. I first had them about 12 years ago at an office party in Ft Lauderdale. They were swimming in butter, wine and parsley – and I loved them…. I was not yet the Foodie I’ve become so it was several years before they came back into my life. They are beautiful little creatures with their glossy black shells and surprisingly very affordable ($5-$6 pound). If serving as the main course I’d suggest a pound per person and lots of bread.

Do not skip the spicy aioli… it is what makes this recipe incredible. It seeps into the wine and salty sea juices… makes a lovely spicy sauce to dip your bread into.

I made a few modifications to the original recipe: I used shallots instead of onion, added parsley and I cut the wine WAY back (recipe calls for an entire bottle). I used Sauvignon Blanc for the wine and there was plenty left for drinking.

INGREDIENTS

For the aioli:

  • 2 roasted red peppers
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha
  • Salt
  • 1 cups canola oil

For the mussels:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large shallots, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 3/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 pounds mussels, debearded and rinsed
  • 2 cups white wine
  • Crusty bread

DIRECTIONS

To make the aioli: Coarsely chop the roasted peppers and place them in a blender or food processor. Add the yolks, garlic, vinegar, chili paste, and salt to taste. Puree until the mixture is smooth. While the machine is running, slowly drizzle in the oil, until incorporated. Check the aioli for texture and flavor. If it’s too thick, add a few drops of water to thin it down, or on the flip side if it’s too thin add more oil. The desired outcome is a fairly thin aioli. Check the flavor and add more salt or chili paste, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To cook the mussels: In a pot, large enough to accommodate all the mussels, generously coat with olive oil. Add the shallots and bring to a medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Cook the shallots until they are very soft and aromatic but have no color. Add the garlic, thyme and bay leaf and cook for another 2 to3 minutes. Stir to be sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the mussels and stir to coat with the oil. Add the wine and cover the pot. Steam the mussels for 5 to 6 minutes or until all the shells open. If some shells don’t open, cook them for a little longer. Sometimes the freshest mussels are the most stubborn to open. Remove the mussels that don’t open after longer cooking. When in doubt, throw out.

While the mussels are steaming, grill or toast the slices of bread.

Serve the mussels in individual bowls with lots of the juice from the bottom of the pot. Generously drizzle each bowl with the aioli. Serve with lots of crusty bread to soak up the liquid!