Sometimes the key to a recipe can be summed up in a single word. With Mac and Cheese, it’s cheese; with bread, it’s baking. In the case of French Onion Soup, it’s patience. Yep, simple patience, instead of technique, or even ingredients. If you don’t have patience, don’t even attempt making this at home; you’ll be disappointed with the results. For those who love French Onion Soup, however, it’s worth the time involved.
This particular version of French Onion Soup is nearly 100% made up by us. We do admit to looking in The Joy of Cooking, just in case we were forgetting anything, but then we almost immediately struck out on our own to create this version.
Makes 2 servings.
This is a recipe that’s all about the method of cooking and not the ingredients. For the broth, we used mushroom broth left over from rehydrating mushrooms, but you could use any rich, flavorful stock. For onions, we just used plain white onions, not Vidalias, Walla Wallas, or anything special. Do use butter, and, for this, you could probably get away with salted butter in a pinch.
Procedure in detail:
Cook onions. Here’s where the patience part comes in. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat. When melted, add the onions and cook, stirring from time to time, until a deep brown color, about 60 to 90 minutes. Yep, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Don’t rush it, either, because this long, slow cooking is what brings out the flavor and eliminates the harsh onion-y bite. Once nicely browned, transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Cook carrots. We’re going to add a bit of sweetness to the broth with carrots, so place the grated carrots in the same saucepan, add a bit more butter if necessary, and turn the heat up to medium. Cook the carrot pieces until tender, stirring nearly continuously, 5 to 10 minutes.
Add broth. Pour the broth over the carrots, and feel free to add any other vegetables that will help flavor the broth, if needed. Since we started with mushroom broth, we also added some greens (amaranth; most farmers treat it as a weed, but it’s quite nutritious). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes to extract the flavors.
Strain. Using a fine sieve, or a colander lined with cheesecloth, strain the boiling liquid to make a clear broth. Discard the solids. Once strained, return the broth to the pan and bring to a boil.
Add onions. Add the reserved cooked onions to the broth and boil for a few minutes, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Taste and season. Taste the soup and add salt and pepper as necessary.
Make crouton. Traditionally, onion soup is put into broiler-safe bowls, topped with a toasted piece of bread, covered with cheese, and run under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly. We don’t have broiler- safe bowls, so we did what we could. We toasted the pieces of bread, topped them with a generous amount of Parmesan (Gruyère is traditional), and placed the bread and cheese under the broiler until the cheese melted and became bubbly.
Serve. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with your crouton, fresh from the broiler.
Yes, this soup takes a while to make, so we don’t make it very often, especially since we normally only make two bowls. Yes, we could make more, but then it would take even longer for the onions to cook down properly, so we content ourselves with onion soup perhaps once a year. Mainly when we have a surfeit of onions. The flavor of this soup is hard to beat: rich, dark, with a mild onion flavor, warming and nourishing. It’s perfect for those chilly days, when you’re willing to spend several hours cooking up a soup (you don’t have to be in front of the stove for the entire time). Because of the time constraint, we give this four stars.