French Onion Soup
French Onion Soup is something that I always thoroughly enjoy when given the opportunity to order it at a restaurant. A stunningly white crock full of aromatic, brothy onion soup topped with a chunk of baguette and smothered in bubbly, browned Gruyere cheese that is dripping over the top and down the sides. I love to savor that cheesy baguette, and take only a little bit off with each spoonful. I can never make it last for the entire bowl of soup, but pulling a soup spoon out of a crock of French onion soup with cheese stretching itself thin is just about the most wonderful site in the culinary world.
I have been aching to make French Onion Soup at home for some time now, as it was on my original Top 100 list, and I am so thankful that I finally got around to doing it. I’m pretty sure I still smell like onions, but wow, this recipe rivals some of the best French onion soup I have had at great restaurants. It’s that good. Perhaps even better.
Now, I would never throw you to the wolves without full disclosure. This recipe is time-consuming. By my estimation it took over 4 hours (maybe 5?) from start to finish, however most of that is inactive time while the onions are doing their thing in the oven. This recipe calls for braising the onions in the oven for three hours instead of laboring over caramelizing them on the stove, noting that the low and slow braise imparts a much deeper flavor. Since I have never made it before I have no basis for comparison, but I can tell you that this soup is absolutely bursting with flavor. Your mouth will do a happy dance.
To give you an idea of what the onions will look like at each stage of the process, I am including a number of pictures.
This is what the pot of onions looked like raw, before going into the oven:
This is what they looked like after one hour in the oven (you take them out to stir):
This is after two hours in the oven (again, another stir):
And finally, at the end of the marathon oven session:
I was out of cooking spray and did my best to just oil the pot before putting the onions in, but as you can see, the sides got a little charred. It didn’t impact the soup at all, so don’t be too worried if this should happen to you.
I didn’t get a picture of the onions once they were browned on the stovetop, but Cookography has a great one from the same recipe so I am including it here. This is pretty much exactly what mine looked like:
Notes on the recipe:
♦ Do not use sweet onions such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, just use straight up yellow onions or the soup will be too sweet.
♦ Once you get the pot on the stove, patience is key. All of the stirring and deglazing takes about 45 minutes to an hour, but it’s a big key in developing the flavor.
♦ I cheated and did not use a baguette. There was some Italian bread in the pantry, so I cut a couple of slices in half to make “baguettes”.
♦ I cheated again and did not use Gruyere. I had the perfect amount of leftover Swiss from my Quiche Lorraine Scones, so I used that.
♦ I cheated AGAIN (third time’s a charm?). I don’t have broiler-safe crocks, so I toasted the bread and then put it on a baking sheet and sprinkled with the cheese, then slipped it under the broiler to bubble and brown. Then I just put those on top of the soup.
Now, don’t be afraid. Go buy some onions and get ready to have one of the most wonderful soups you’ll ever make in your kitchen.
Best French Onion Soup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
6 large yellow onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut into ¼-inch thick slices
2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
½ cup dry sherry
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper
1 small baguette, cut into ½-inch slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese (about 2½ cups)
1. For the soup: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously spray inside of heavy-bottomed large (at leasts 7-quart) Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Place butter in pot and add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, 1 hour (onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot. Return pot to oven with lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until onions are very soft and golden brown, 1½ to 1¾ hours longer, stirring onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.
2. Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat if necessary. (Scrape any crust that collected on spoon back into onions.) Stir in ¼ cup water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
3. Stir in broths, 2 cups water, thyme, bay leaf, and ½ teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.
4. For the croutons: While soup simmers, arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in 400-degree oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
5. To serve: Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1¾ cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyere. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.