Wednesday, February 29, 2012

French Onion Soup

I spent Sunday making French Onion Soup. It wasn't all active time, of course, but I started at 1, and we ate at 8, and even then I had to speed the recipe up. How did it come to this? Well, I follow Michael Ruhlman's blog, over at, and a while back he posted a recipe for French Onion Soup. I love French Onion Soup, but rarely get it at restaurants since I rarely get an appetizer of any sort at restaurants. So I was pretty excited by the recipe. Unfortunately, it calls for sweating the onions over several hours, so it took a while for me to get around to it. But I'm glad I did!

The broth was great; rich and oniony. I had intended to add a bit of bourbon to each bowl, but it slipped my mind. I was out of sherry, so I used a mixture of vermouth and sherry vinegar. The crusty bread eagerly soaked up the broth, almost to the extent there was none left, and the Emmentaler cheese provided a great nutty edge to the dish. When I had it again two days later, the flavors were quite a bit more subtle. In general, it was an improvement, but the sweetness of the onions was overwhelming. They were so sweet, they tasted almost like apples! I'm glad I added beef broth to it. Ruhlman is adamantly against it, but I feel like the ratio of two parts water to one part broth gave it a lot more depth than it would have had otherwise, while still allowing the onion flavor to shine through.

If I had to do it again, I'd have the temperature a bit higher when sweating the onions. I had it almost all the way down, and it still wasn't done by the time we were starving at 8 o'clock. I think I could have dialed it up a bit higher, and not risked burning the onions. That would have meant dinner at a reasonable hour. Given the tendency of the bread to soak up the broth, I need either more liquid or thinner bread. I worry that thinner bread might just lose to much of the crunch. Recipe is after the jump.

French Onion Soup

1 tablespoon butter
7 or 8 Spanish onions (7 to 8 pounds/3.2 to 3.6 kilograms), thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 to 12 slices of baguette or any country-style bread (it’s best if they cover the width of your serving bowls)
1/3 cup/75 milliliters sherry
Red or white wine vinegar (optional)
Red wine (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 pound/225 to 340 grams Gruyère or Emmanthaler cheese, grated

1. Use a large pot, with a capacity of about 7 1/2 quarts/7.1 liters, that will hold all the onions. An enameled cast-iron pot will provide the best surface. Place the pot over medium and melt the butter. Add the onions, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt, cover, and cook until the onions have heated through and started to steam. Uncover, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally (you should be able to leave the onions alone for an hour at a stretch once they’ve released their water). Season with several grinds of pepper.
Preheat the oven to 200°F/95°C. Place the bread slices in the oven and let dry completely (you can leave the slices in the oven indefinitely, as the heat is not high enough to burn them).

2. When the onions have completely cooked down, the water has cooked off, and the onions have turned amber—this will take several hours—add 6 cups/1.4 liters of water. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Add the sherry. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too sweet, add some vinegar. If you would like a little more depth, add a splash of red wine. I like the onion-to-liquid ratio with 6 cups of water. But if you’d prefer a little more delicate soup, add 1 cup/240 milliliters water.
3. Preheat the broiler/grill. Portion the soup into bowls, float the bread on top, cover with the cheese, and broil/grill until the cheese is melted and nicely browned. Serve immediately.

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