Being stuck inside all the time isn’t ideal, but it does have a few benefits, one of which is that many people are becoming much more daring with their culinary projects. There are tons of simple yet impressive recipes that are easier than you ever imagined. And right now is a great time to try them so that when we can all hang out together again you will have confidence in your techniques.
One such recipe is French Onion Soup. Introduced to America in the 1960s by Julia Child, this amazingly unique soup has fallen out of fashion lately, which is a real shame because it is as simple as it is delicious. When I first began my cooking career, I was introduced to a set of three books that Saveur Magazine published: one a collection of classic American food, one of classic Italian food, and one of classic French food. All three are great, but I recently repurchased the French one. This will not only provide simple and accessible classic French recipes, but being from Saveur, there are lots of great anecdotes about the people, regions, and histories associated with the dishes.
I took my inspiration for this recipe from that book but made a few changes and additions which I have picked up over the years. It also helps if you have a set of incredibly cool small ceramic handled crockpots to cook your soup in, but this is by no means necessary. The handles do come in awfully, well, handy, when serving the dish. I’m quite proud of my set…
There are two parts to French Onion Soup: making the soup itself and then assembling it for serving. Let’s start with the basics and then move into the technique.
For French Onion Soup:
About 3 lbs of yellow onions
64 oz. beef stock (preferably unsalted)
A small bunch of fresh thyme
2 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 C King’s Ridge Pinot Gris (plus more for drinking!)
3 oz Unsalted Butter
Salt & Pepper
To Finish and Serve:
Baguette or other firm French Bread
1 Tbs Butter
1 lb Shredded Gruyere Cheese (for 4 soup bowls)
Making the Soup:
Peel and slice your onions. You will want to slice them “North to South” as illustrated in the picture. This will ensure that while cooking, the onions will caramelize well.
(Editors note: Cutting onions is brutal. You will cry. Everyone cries. In 15 years of professional cooking, I have heard every wives tale as to how to avoid this, and I can say none has ever worked for me. But maybe you know something I don’t.)
Take 4-6 good sized sprigs of fresh thyme and tie them together with butchers twine. This will allow you to impart a fresh thyme flavor into the broth without worrying about any sprigs being left behind in the soup.
Melt the 3 oz of butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Just as it starts to bubble, add all your sliced onions and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently and making sure they don’t burn until onions begin to caramelize and turn light brown, about 20 minutes.
Deglaze with the wine and cook until all the wine has evaporated. Continue to cook onions until they are a deep rich brown. Many people will tell you to add sugar at this point, but I feel the natural sugars in the wine do the trick just as well.
Add the beef broth, Worcestershire Sauce and thyme, and simmer for 20 minutes. Let cool in the pot. Once cooled, remove the thyme and adjust seasoning if necessary with more salt and pepper.
Putting it all Together:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. I recommend putting your ceramic crocks on a sheet pan and placing them in the cold oven, allowing them to heat up gradually as the oven heats. Return your soup to the stove and bring to a light simmer. Grate your gruyere cheese and set aside.
Into each hot crockpot, ladle in the hot soup. You will want to make sure you have a little extra broth as the bread will soak up a good amount.
Slice your bread into 1/4 inch thick slices and lightly toast in a pan with the butter. Gently place on top of the soup.
Cover each top with the shredded gruyere cheese. Return to the oven and melt cheese for 5-10 minutes. Then switch the oven to broil and keep a close eye on the soup so that the cheese colors but doesn’t burn. Carefully remove and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Pull the King’s Ridge Pinot Gris out of the fridge, pour a few glasses and you are good to go. I like to serve this soup with a simple arugula salad, dressed with lemon juice, salt, and a little extra virgin olive oil.
Photography, Recipe and Text by David L. Reamer. (@dlreamer)