French onion soup is the iconic bistro classic that nearly everyone is familiar with. Rich beef broth, filled with onions, topped with a slice of baguette and covered with cheese. Well done, it is delicious. Poorly done, it is hell in a bowl.
When I developed my recipe for this soup, I decided that there were a few things that I would change. Most apparent was the fact that the bread was always soggy and the cheese, once broiled, would harden immediately into a spoon-rejecting casing.
So I did a little tweaking and fixed the things that annoyed me about the soup.
- First, I start with butter. Find a big, heavy pot and melt the butter in it. About a tablespoon per person.
- The onions go in, sliced thinly into rounds, about two large yellow onions per serving. Then some garlic. Let the onions caramelize until very brown, on medium heat. This takes forever, so don’t forget to stir them.
- Then, add a cup of dry red wine per person. Increase heat to high, and scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add beef stock, unsalted, about four cups per person, then a pinch of dried thyme.
- Simmer for one hour, until the broth is thick, dark and concentrated. Season it with salt and pepper, and a bit of fresh thyme.
- Grate the cheese. Gruyere is the only cheese for this soup. Everything else is a rubbery mess. Make buttery croutons with the best bread you can buy.
- Ladle a bit of soup into the bowl, add some croutons and cheese, more soup, then top with crunchy croutons and more cheese.
Voila! French onion soup, with all the good stuff, and none of the bad!
The full recipe:
French Onion Soup (serves four):
- 4 Tb unsalted butter
- 8 large yellow onions, sliced into thin rounds
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups dry red wine
- ¼ tsp dried thyme
- 16 cups unsalted beef stock (vegetable stock works fine too. If you can’t find unsalted beef stock, use 8 cups stock and eight cups water)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
- 1 pound Gruyere cheese, grated
Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot. The onions will shrink as they cook, so a big pot is best. Once butter is melted and beginning to brown, add the onions and garlic. Cook on medium heat, stirring once in a while, until onions are browned and there is a dark brown glaze on the bottom of the pot. Add the red wine and boil, scraping up all the nice brown bits from the pot. Add the dried thyme and stock. Simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Let the soup simmer uncovered, so it can concentrate and get deeply brown and fragrant. You can’t rush this. At the end of simmering, you will end up with half the amount of liquid you began with. Add the fresh thyme. Season the soup gently with salt and pepper. Keep hot until ready to serve.
- 8 cups of bread, the best rustic bread you can find, torn into one-inch chunks
- 1 stick of butter, melted
- Salt and pepper
Put the bread into a bowl. Toss with melted butter and a bit of salt and pepper. Bake on a sheet pan at 350 degrees until toasted and brown, stirring once. Remove from oven when crunchy.
Ladle a bit of hot soup into a gorgeous bowl. Add some croutons and Gruyere. Ladle more soup on top. Add a big spoonful of cheese and some more croutons. Serve hot. No soggy bread, nice melted cheese, and make sure you take time to savor. A really generous spoon helps a lot.