We believe it was just around this time last year when we had a craving for a classic dish that is a fantastic weeknight meal with a hearty salad and bread, or a very impressive first course for a cozy dinner party. In the depths of winter, nothing comes close to a piping bowl of French onion soup – oozing with cheese, rich and sweet, this is a real treat that is so easy to make.
Once the onions are cut (and you dry your tears), the flavour of the soup is all about the balance between beef stock and the sweetness of caramelized onions. Originating in 18th century France, this soup uses local resources, which were often scarce. Onions had storage power, and with the technique of caramelization, a whole new flavour was discovered.
Caramelization, in this case, is the procedure in which the onions are cooked slowly until the melting sugars approach burning temperature, becoming brown. Some recipes suggest a half an hour of cooking time, but many chefs and cooks allow for hours of cooking, bringing out the complex flavors of the onions’ sugars. Regular ol’ cooking onions actually caramelize the best.
To use up stale bread, the soup was topped with a thick slice, which soaked up the flavourful broth. Local mountainous cheeses, Gruyere or Compté (pronounced con-tay), topped the bowl, which is then placed under the broiler to melt.
French Onion Soup
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 5-6 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 8 cups beef stock
- 2 cups of dry red wine (a wine that you would drink a glass of … or a bottle)
- Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- 8 thick slices of well-toasted sourdough bread
- 3/4-lb Gruyere cheese, sliced or shredded
- Fresh thyme to garnish
We’ve written about Gruyere cheese before, and how we love its melting properties. Try mozzarella or even Havarti for a milder version. Use homemade or store-bought beef stock, however, if using a boxed stock, do not add any salt until the end of cooking to ensure that the soup is not over salted.
In a large heavy bottom pot (Le Creuset work fantastic!), melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onions, cook, stirring occasionally, until very well caramelized, about 1 hour (or more);
Deglaze the pan with red wine. The wine should bubble in the pan remove any browned bits stuck on the pan to incorporate into the broth. Add stock and simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour;
Season to taste;
Pre-heat oven to 425F. Divide soup amongst ovenproof French onion soup bowls, large ramekins, or any other oven-safe bowl. Place bread on soup and top with cheese. Bake until cheese has melted and is golden brown. Garnish with fresh thyme.