I was in a bookstore the other day and I found myself wandering towards the section on French cooking. I knew I wanted to make French Onion soup this week, and with that in mind I found myself leafing through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. This is actually a very simple soup, although Julia Child insists that a decent version takes two and a half hours to prepare. Fortunately I’m not trying to compete with Julia Child, I was just looking for some inspiration. I was happy to find a version that took closer to an hour and a half. There are a few standard ingredients and techniques shared among respectable recipes. The base is made up of thinly sliced onions and broth or stock. Beef stock is traditional, but many recipes now call for chicken broth instead. Wine is used to deglaze the pan and flavor the stock—although some recipes call for white and some for red. Dry wine is key because you need to balance out the natural sweetness in the caramelized onions. The addition of bay leaves and thyme are common, but not required. The final dish should be topped with toasted baguette and cheese, typically Gruyere, and roasted until browned and bubbly.
After reading through a few different recipes I was having trouble settling on one, so I blended two that made intuitive sense to me. What I liked about this one from Simply Recipes is that it’s pure and relies on good ingredients to carry the soup. However, this version from Gourmet had a few additions that were common enough in other recipes that I felt safer including them.
I began by halving six yellow onions and using my mandoline to slice them thinly. I sautéed the onions for 40 minutes in ¼ cup of unsalted butter, stirring frequently to prevent them from burning. Ten minutes into cooking I added ¼ teaspoon of sugar to aid with caramelization, although I might skip this step next time. I also added the bay leaf, three fresh thyme sprigs, and ½ teaspoon salt about halfway through cooking. At 40 minutes I added two minced garlic cloves and stirred for one minutes. Then I added a tablespoon of all-purpose gf flour and stirred for another minute. Finally I added ½ cup dry red wine and let it simmer until it was absorbed by the onions, which only took a couple of minutes. I had a beautiful beef stock from my stock making class at Portland’s Culinary Workshop and that was the base of the soup. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, so I had to supplement with some chicken stock to get up to eight cups. I think this didn’t hurt the final dish significantly, but it would have been a richer, beefier taste if I could have found a good quality beef stock to make up for the remaining liquid.
I let everything simmer while I prepared some New Cascadia Traditional gluten free baguette. I placed ½ inch slices on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 for close to 20 minutes, flipping once. While they were toasting I removed the bay leaf and thyme, and added generous amounts of salt and pepper, to taste, to the soup. I finished everything off as you would expect—by ladling the soup into oven-safe bowls and topping with two slices of bread and lots of Gruyere. It took about 15 minutes at 350 degrees until it looked ready to eat.
This red wine is like a red French table wine and paired well with the soup. As much as I enjoyed the soup, I have plans for using the leftovers in another time-honored, family favorite recipe for New Years Day. Stay tuned!
French Onion Soup by Elsie Bauer
Simply Recipes December 2003
French Onion Soup via Epicurious
Gourmet December 2006