Please read my post on French Onion soup 101 and delve into the why’s and how to’s of this French bistro classic.
The pan is important; I use a 6-quart, deep sauté pan from Le Creuset. Also ensure you have some type of Country crock bowls, stalwart enough to take the broiler heat. If you’ve invested in a kitchen blow torch, kudos to you – that is the best way to melt the cheese.
Build some fortifications around your soupe a l’ognion to guard against any predators. The best part is the crispy, burnt pieces of cheesy goodness around the rim. Who could ask for anything more lavish and decadent?
4 large sweet onions – Walla Walla, Vidalia or Maui – halved crosswise and then sliced
2 garlic cloves chopped
2 large shallots – finely chopped
4 TBSP unsalted butter or even better duck fat
1 TBSP of olive oil
½ TSP sugar
8 cups of beef broth – homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought
2 bay leaves
2 juniper berries
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 sprigs of fresh parsley
6 black peppercorns
1 cup of dry sauvignon blanc or similar
2 quarts of beef broth
1 baguette for slicing
3 cups of grated Emmental or Gruyère cheese
2 TBSP of dry sherry or dry Madeira wine
In a 6-quart sauté pan melt the butter, add the onions, shallots and garlic and ensure that the heat is on med/low, simmer them for about 15 minutes, covered. After the fifteen minutes add some Kosher salt and the sugar (which caramelizes the onions).
Cut a square out of cheesecloth and tie together the bay leaves, thyme, juniper berries, peppercorns and some parsley sprigs to prepare the bouquet garni.
Now cook the onions uncovered about 45 minutes to an hour until they are nicely browned. Ensure they don’t burn by stirring often. Add the wine and reduce by half. Incorporate the beef stock, bouquet garni and simmer for about 30-45 minutes to obtain deep of flavor. Adjust seasonings.
Heat the oven to about 350F – prepare some slices of French baguette, buttered on both sides and toast them for about 10 minutes till they are nice and golden. Ensure they are not overly crispy and remove when done.
Raise the oven temperature to about 450F. In some ovenproof soup bowls or French country crocks, ladle some of the soup, add some of the grated cheese, place the toasted bread on top and finish with copious amounts of cheese. Drizzle a small amount of dry sherry over the cheese. Place the bowls on a cookie sheet and carefully set it on the middle rack. Bake for about 10-15 minutes till the cheese is bubbly and melted over the sides.
When you are ready to dive into making this delectable broth, ask your butcher if he has any beef bones (the ones that have the most marrow, are best). Also grovel and beg for a few veal bones, those add tremendous sweetness to the stock.
Beef and veal marrow bones
1 sprig of thyme
16 cups or thereabouts of cold water
2 carrots – unpeeled and cut into big chunks
1 whole onion – cut into quarters – unpeeled (the onion skin imparts tremendous flavor and color)
4 garlic cloves smashed lightly and unpeeled
2 stalks of celery – cut into big chunks with the leafy tops
1 whole bunch of parsley
3 bay leaves
2 TSP Kosher salt
Place the bones on a cookie sheet or a roasting pan lined with some foil. Roast them to get some color at 450F for about 30 minutes.
Cut out a medium sized square out of cheesecloth, add the sprigs of thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns and tie together to make the bouquet garni. Place the beef bones inside a 10-quart pot. Throw in the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bouquet garni, the whole bunch of parsley (stems included) and cover them with cold water. Season generously with salt.
Bring to a boil and set on the lowest possible simmer for about 3 hours, skimming the surface as much as possible for any fat or foam that accumulates. Allow the stock to cool and drain through a colander over a large bowl.