French Onion Soup


Every francophile I’ve ever met has sung praises about French onion soup. THE French onion soup, because you have to assume that there’s more than one type of onion soup in French cuisine (and there is). But it’s just called French onion soup in the United States. Even before I had any idea what the soup might look or taste like, it has carried some kind of mystique about it, like it was the ambrosia of soups.

Now I finally have a chance to make the soup and taste for myself what all the fuss is about. French onion soup, like many French dishes, can take either a really, really long time to make or not that long at all, depending on how thorough you feel like proceeding. It can also be quite cheap to make, or quite expensive. For this blog, I have chosen the “very thorough and long” route, and a “middle of the road” budget. Along the way I will point out where you can make cheaper or more expensive substitutions as appropriate. Of course, you can always use store-bought shortcuts for any step you feel necessary.

Ingredients

Note to self: napalm flamethrower not a viable cooking utensil.

Prep time: 1.25 – 3 hours
Serves 4-5

4 yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 5 cups of sliced onions)
5 cups beef stock[1]
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp cooking oil
salt
pepper
pinch of sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 medium baguette[2]
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp oil (preferably olive)
1/2 cups Swiss cheese[3]
2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley or scallions (optional)

[1]You can make your own from beef bones or buy beef stock or use bouillon, which is significantly cheaper and faster.
[2]This is to make the croutons. Of course, you can always make your own baguettes too, like I do 🙂
[3]Most recipes call for Gruyere, which is quite expensive. Use generic Swiss as a substitute.

Cooking

French onion soup has three base components which must be assembled before the soup itself can come together: the baguette, the beef stock, and the caramelized onion.

Baguettes can be bought or made. I have made my own baguettes ahead of time for this recipe. If you have never made baguettes before and are unsure on whether or not you wish to make them, try reading through a few recipes online. Baguettes are cheap but rather tricky to make, and are one of those things that require repeated attempts to understand and improve upon. You will need one medium-sized baguette to make about 3-4 cups of croutons.

I see your baguette is as big as mine. Now let’s see how well you use it.

Next up is beef stock. Beef stock is not difficult to make, but costs significantly more than a few blocks of bouillon. You can make it by browning a couple pounds of beef bones and scraps along with some chopped carrot and onion, and covering with 6 cups of water to simmer for about 90 minutes. Remove the bones and strain the vegetables from the stock when ready.

Slick product placement on the lower left corner.

When you have both the baguette and the beef stock, you are ready to start making the soup! Begin by thinly slicing about 4-5 yellow onions. You want about 5-6 cups of the stuff. And yes, that shit will make you weep.

No woman no cry? Bob Marley never chopped any fuckin’ onions.

Melt two tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of oil on high heat in a pot. When the butter foam has subsided, add your onions and cook with a lid on the pot for about 5 minutes. This will steam and wilt the onions to prepare them for caramelization. After 5 minutes, uncover the pot and switch heat down to medium (medium-low on gas stoves). Add 1 teaspoon of salt and just a pinch of sugar to help the onions brown. Cook the onions, stirring with a spatula every 2 minutes or so, for about 40 minutes to caramelize the onions.

This isn’t something you can hurry along. Fast equals premature.

While your onions are cooking, you can start working on your croutons. Chop your baguette into 3/4 inch (2 cm) medallions, then cut them into approximately 1 inch pieces. In a separate bowl or container, add 1 minced clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons of oil (olive oil is best), and about half a teaspoon of salt and pepper. Dump all of your bread pieces into this and shake around to coat.

Make precise cuts. Think premeditated murder, not crime of passion.

Bake your croutons in a 275F (135C) oven, turning them every 10 minutes for about 40-50 minutes. These croutons need to be dryer than regular croutons because they need to withstand being placed in onion soup without falling apart.

While your croutons are in the oven, your onions should caramelizing nicely, and look something like this:

Interestingly enough this is also an effective dog poison.

Cook for about five more minutes. At this point in time, the caramelizing process will give significantly diminishing returns the longer you cook it. Sprinkle in two tablespoons of flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Pour in about 5 cups of hot stock to cover, and 1/3 cup of white wine. Season well with salt and pepper- you will need approximately an entire tablespoon of salt to counter the sweetness of onion. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Not that I’ve ever poisoned any dogs with this. Really.

Sometime during when your soup is simmering, your croutons should be done. Taste a crouton to make sure that it is completely dry throughout. It should not be moist or soft in any part.

If you have bad teeth you should probably not chew these without soaking in the soup first, or without first stealing granny’s dentures.

When the soup is almost done, turn the broiler on in your oven. Prepare as many bowls as you are prepared to serve. Ladle your soup into the bowls, then top with croutons and Swiss cheese. Stick the bowls into the oven under the red-hot broiler for 30 seconds to melt the cheese. I left mine to broil for a full minute, and the croutons burned. Top with your herb of choice and serve immediately.

The Result

The title of this soup has French, onion, and soup. The soup itself has two out of those three things. Oh well.

How wazzit? Wouldn’t you like to know? Well, the soup has an interesting dynamic. The first bite is delicious. There is the crunchy, aromatic croutons (which are slightly soggy on the bottom), the rich beef broth, the sweet caramelized onions, an entire symphony of flavors and textures. Then the next bite isn’t quite as good, and the next is a bit less good, and by the fifth bite you’re wanting to finish the soup and move on to something else. So, I wouldn’t recommend serving more than 1 cup’s worth to anyone for any one meal.

Conclusion

Fuck. I’m fairly certain that hearing all these people talk about how great French onion soup is has ruined French onion soup for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good (for the first bite especially), but it’s not the mind-blowing epiphany that I was expecting. Long story short is, don’t let people tell you how great some food is. It’s far better to just assume that something is “pretty good” in a modest sort of way, so you can always leave more impressed than you were prepared to be.

How is French onion soup? It’s pretty good. You should give it a try some time.

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1 Comment

  1. asdasda

     /  June 5, 2012

    ur awesome!

    Reply

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