When my husband, Eric, and I go out to eat, I can pretty much predict what he is going to order after I spend a few minutes looking over the menu. He has never met a Chicken Parmigiana that he didn't like, he loves a fresh Caprese salad, and, although he seldom eats dessert, Key Lime Pie is hard for him to resist. Usually, if French Onion Soup is on the menu at a restaurant, Eric can be counted on to order this to start off his meal.
Unfortunately, the last 3 times that Eric has ordered French Onion Soup have left him quite underwhelmed. It was quite obvious that Jacques Pepin was not the surprise guest chef for the evening and that the restaurant's recipe for the soup didn't follow the traditional French method of preparation. Each time, the onions were tough and still white in color, the broth was light, and the bread was practically dissolving in the liquid. So, I decided that, rather than have him try the soup at a fourth restaurant, I would make Eric a true French Soupe a l'oignon at home.
The key to good French Onion Soup is the rich flavor of the base, a result of combining the broth with the slowly caramelized onions. Caramelization occurs when the onions are cooked slowly and the melting sugars approach burning temperature and become brown. The restaurants were obviously trying to take a shortcut with this process, which was reflected in the soups flavor (or lack thereof!). The crouton, which tops the base, needs to be dry and crusty, so that it doesn't completely fall apart in the liquid. The process for making this soup is very easy--it just requires some planning ahead. I would be wary if this was offered up as one of Rachael's "30 Minute Meals".... Here are some tips for making this French soup magnifique!:
- Braising something means to cook it slowly in moist heat, often in a covered pot or casserole with a variable amount of liquid, resulting in a particular flavor. In the case of this recipe, the onions will be infused with the white wine and sherry.
- The onions and beef stock can be prepared one day in advance and then refrigerated, covered. Combine the two in a large saucepan and reheat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, before dividing into the 6 bowls.
- If you don't like Gruyere or if you can't find it, try using something like Emmenthaler, Swiss, Raclette, or Jarlsberg cheese instead. The flavors will not be exactly the same (most of the cheeses that I listed are a bit nuttier than Gruyere), but the effect will be similar.
- When braising the onion and wine mixture, the result should be that the onions are a nice golden brown in color. You might need to braise them a little bit longer than the 1 hour indicated, depending on your oven and how big the onions were.
French Onion Soup
1 cup white wine
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons sherry
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sugar
3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
2 large bay leaves
2 quarts beef stock
12 (½ inch thick) slices baguette
2 cloves garlic, smashed
6 cups grated Gruyere cheese
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat the oven to 425F degrees. Combine the wine, ½ cup sherry, 4 tablespoons butter, sugar, onions, and salt and pepper in a 9X13 casserole dish and stir to mix. Braise in the oven, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions just begin to brown, 40-45 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and cover with foil. Continue braising in the oven, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 1 hour more. Keep covered and set aside.
Meanwhile, combine the thyme, bay leaves, parsley, and beef stock in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of Sherry and cook for 5 minutes more.
While the broth simmers, spread the baguette slices with the remaining butter. Toast the slices in a skillet over medium heat, turning once, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Rub the slices on both sides with the cloves of garlic and set aside. Discard the garlic.
Heat the broiler and place the oven rack about 6 inches from the heating element. Arrange 6 heat-proof bowls on a foil-lined baking sheet. Divide the onions and broth between the bowls and stir together. Place 2 baguette slices in each bowl and top with 1 cup Gruyere and ⅓ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until cheeses are browned and bubbly, 3-5 minutes. Serve immediately.