French onion soup…overanalyzed

I first ate this soup in a town called Avignon in France and was amazed by its simplicity and deep flavour. Since then, whenever a restaurant has it on its menu, I always order it. Searching in vain to relive that first experience. Now that the cold weather calls for something like that, I decided to make it myself. This soup has very few and simple ingredients but relies on quality and patience in three key areas.

One is the slow low-heat caramelization of the onions… any hasty attempts to skip this will ruin the result. Second is a good quality beef stock, (again requiring time but not much effort.) Third is off course, the amazing bread & cheese topping finished under the grill right before serving.

Unfortunately I didn’t document my stock process which I left cooking overnight, so I promise to include a post later on. There are however, many virtually identical recipes out there. You can pick whichever you like, but here also there are a few simple procecess that must be followed. Good quality big bones with lots of marrow, a good caramelization of both meat and vegetables, and a low-heat simmering for at least 5 hours. Plan ahead and enjoy.

– Mel

Ingredients
– 8 large white onions cut in half then sliced lengthwise
– 8 sliced shallots
– 1 leek sliced
– 3 thyme stalks
– 2 bay leafs
– 5 cups good quality beef stock
– 2 shots brandy
– 2 tbs butter
– 1tbs brown sugar
– french baguette bread sliced and toasted
– Gruyère or Swiss cheese
– salt & pepper

Directions:
1. In the widest skillet available, add the butter and turn the heat to medium/medium low.
2. Add the onions, shallots and leek, sprinkle the sugar and 1tbs of salt and stir so the fat coats all onions.
3. Cook for 40 minutes stirring occasionally. If possible for the first 10 minutes cover with lid or foil to help the onions sweat.
4. Turn the heat up to medium/medium high and continue cooking for 10 minutes stirring more often.
5. Empty the onions in a pot and return the skillet on medium high heat. Add the brandy and scrape any brown bits from the onions (this is called deglazing). As soon as the alcohol evaporates (roughly when the liquid is reduced to half) pour the brandy in the pot.
6. Add the stock, bay leaf, thyme and bring to a slow simmer on low heat. Cook for 15-20 minutes.
7. Taste and adjust seasoning, (I like a lot of pepper in this soup), spoon soup in oven-proof serving bowls place a slice of bread on top of each and sprinkle a good handful of cheese on top. Place under a grill and bake until cheese melts and browns a bit.

Tips
* For a good caramelization of the onions, most of them should be in contact with the skillet surface, not piled high on top of each other. If necessary use two skillets.

…for more recipes from us, check out our archives.

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4 thoughts on “French onion soup…overanalyzed

  1. I recognized it was you before i read your name at the bottom of the post ! Excellent writing skills. Precise and to the point ! Plus the soup must have been delicious !

    • Yea it’s easy to tell when it’s mel writing, he doesn’t waste time with small talk. He’s very food focused which I love. It’s nice to have a view & style drastically different from my own, especially since I almost always ramble.

  2. Ok, just a huge thanks !!
    I’ve been scouting the web for french onion soup recipes, and there is always something wrong with them!
    Either the directions were off, or the ingredients were not balanced, i dunno, but i always had to adjust the recipe at the end.
    This is just perfect, it goes on my little recipe notebook as it is!
    By the way, are we getting more turkey this year?
    :D

    • You’ll have to ask mel… I’m pushing for it though, his turkey is the best. I’ve got a couple of recipes I’d like to arrange for dessert a well.
      You’re right on the money about his onion soup recipe though… it was ah-MAZING! I kept stealing how bowl away from him so that I could eat more. I’ll need to get him to post up the instructions on making stock at home, I think that really helped tie everything together.

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