When my wife and I got to Paris last summer the first thing we each ate was a piping hot bowl of French onion soup. It was surprisingly cool afternoon and we had been walking around for a few hours and sufficiently worked up an appetite. We stopped at a cafe across the street from the Sorbonne (ever the campus tour guide, I wanted to see the campus) and warmed up with delicious soup.
I think I had it twice more over our two and a half week trip. It’s not hard to see why I and so many others love this dish. Onions? Check. Bread? Check. Melty cheese? Check. What more could you want? Compared to the insane cold of last winter the past few months have been relatively mild. But in winter one must make soup, so that’s what I did a few weeks ago.
This recipe comes from The Country Cooking of France, a fantastic cookbook that until recently we didn’t use all that much. The recipes cover every conceivable part of a French meal from a multitude of regions, sometimes with a disdain for the way Parisians have tried to “hijack” several dishes. Many of the recipes have long ingredient lists but are very much the real deal and in my opinion worth the effort. Consider this a gateway recipe; it doesn’t take too long to make and has a simple ingredient list.
I did cut one corner and opted to buy beef broth rather than making it myself (of course this is blasphemy to the French). I didn’t skimp on the cheese and used the recommended gruyère cheese which when sprinkled over the warm soup melts into a fantastically gooey and rich top layer. We only have very tiny oven-proof ramekins, otherwise I would have placed the ready to serve soup under the broiler briefly to melt and brown the cheese.
This is one of those great dishes that has a relatively short and simple ingredient list but results in wonderfully complex flavors. It doesn’t require cooking all day over a hot stove either; you’re done in just about the amount of time it takes to caramelize the onions. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this as much as we did!
French Onion Soup (Makes 6-8 servings)
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 6 large yellow onions (about 2 lbs), thinly sliced
- 1 large yellow onion, halved but not peeled
- 1 tsp sugar
- 6 cups beef or veal broth
- 1 C grated gruyère cheese (about 100 grams)
In a soup pot melt the better over low heat. Add in the sliced onions and lightly salt and pepper. Press a piece of aluminum foil onto the onion and press against the sides to cover completely. Cover the pan and let the onions cook for 25-30 minutes, occasionally removing the foil to stir.
After 30 minutes remove the lid and foil, raise the heat to medium and continue to cook. Stir occasionally and continue cooking until the onions are a deep dark brown.
While the onions are cooking char the halved onion. Heat a small pan over an electric burner on medium high heat. Sprinkle the cut surfaces of the onion with the sugar and place sugar side down in the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until dark brown. Set aside when done.
Once the onions have caramelized add in the broth and charred onion. Bring to a boil then cover and lower the heat to simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes then discard the charred onion halves. Serve hot with croutons and gruyère.
Recipe from The Country Cooking of France.