French Onion Soup

Jennifer Jo, whom I’ve known since Kindergarten, is obsessed with all things cozy: intimate spaces, fireplaces, red wine, a good blanket and someone with whom to share. French Onion is a cozy soup, so it’s only fitting that she requested this recipe.

This soup takes time to make. It’s not something that you can or should rush. With that said, it’s the recipe to make when you are cooking for joy and relaxation.

The Ingredients:

  • 4 Large Onions – I use Texas Sweet Onions, but you can use what you like. The onions should be the size of a softball. When completely sliced up, they will fit into two Pyrex 4-cup liquid measures. If you can’t find onions this big, use 6-8 medium size onions.
  • 4 oz of Butter – I use unsalted for this recipe.
  • 4 Slices of Thick Uncured Bacon – Get the meatiest looking bacon that you can find.
  • Fresh Thyme – Please, please, please use fresh. The flavors in this dish are simple and the thyme factors heavily into the total flavor.
  • Beef Stock – Try to find stock. If you can’t find it, broth will do. You will need at least 64oz and it’s a good idea to have more if needed.
  • Red Wine – I use a Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region of France, but you can use whatever you like. Don’t use “cooking wine”…if you wouldn’t drink it from a glass or serve it in a glass to someone else, you shouldn’t be cooking with it. Period.
  • Kosher Salt and Black Pepper
  • Garlic Croutons – See my recipe here: http://wp.me/p3b57X-W
  • Gruyère or Provolone Cheese – Up to you. Provolone makes it a little less “French”, but both of these will work.
  • Optional: Fresh Chives

The Tools:

  • Knife and Cutting Board
  • Dutch Oven – I use a Le Creuset but any heavy-bottomed pot will do except a non-stick pot. More on that later.
  • Liquid Measures – in cups and ozs
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Cheesecloth or Herb Bag
  • Potato Peeler
  • Oven-Safe Individual Soup Crocks

The Action:

  • Gather your ingredients:

Gather Ingredients

  • Slice the onions into rounds with a variety of thickness:

Onion Slices

  • Place your dutch over on the stove top and turn the heat on medium. Add the butter to the pot and melt it slowly. You do not want the butter to sizzle or brown.
  • Add the sliced onions to the butter with a few pinches of salt. Don’t skip this in the name of sodium reduction – this is French Onion Soup so it’s going to have sodium in it and that’s part of its goodness. Using salt here will help bring the water out of the onions and help the onions carmelize.

Onions Cooking Down

  • Using your wooden spoon, work the onions around in the pot carefully to distribute the butter and salt over them. Turn up the heat just a bit.
  • Measure out 2oz of the red wine and set it aside. Now, if you are a wine drinker, pour yourself a glass from the bottle – you are going to have about 20 minutes or so until the onions are carmelized.
  • The onions will break down like this…but they aren’t done yet:

Onions Cooking

  • Chop the bacon into small pieces (about as big as two of your thumbnails). Trim off any major fatty parts:

Bacon

  • Add the bacon to the onions when the onions start to become golden. I do this because I like the onions to pick up a little bacon flavor as they are cooking. I admit, I will never understand why Anthony Bourdain and Julia Child usually advise adding bacon at the same time as liquid.
  • While you are waiting, grab 6 sprigs of thyme and bundle it in cheesecloth or place in an herb bag (you can find these items at gourmet grocery stores like Central Market and Whole Foods or places like Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma).
  • Every so often, work the onions around the pan with the spoon to make sure that they are cooking evenly. This is what they should look like when they are ready. (This picture was retrieved from FoodNetwork.com – I forgot to take the photo my own end-result onions!)

Caramelized_Onions

  • When the onions finish carmelizing, there should be brown crust on the bottom of the pan. When you add the liquids, you will want to use those liquids as agents to un-stick the crust from the pan. This is called “deglazing”. Turn the heat down a bit and add the 2oz of red wine to the onions in the pan. Use the spoon to stir the mixture around and get the bits off the bottom.
  • Add your 64oz of beef stock to the pan. The stock should cover the onions by at least an inch. If it doesn’t, go to your back-up stock and add more stock.
  • Add the cheesecloth bundle or herb bag with the thyme.
  • Sprinkle the leaves from 2-3 springs of thyme into the soup.
  • Stir to make sure that everything is blending. Then, turn up the heat. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer for 45 minutes or so. Check on the soup often to ensure that it’s heating at the right pace. You are cooking it here to blend the flavors together and thicken the broth up a bit.

Note: As the soup cooks, you will want to skim the fat off the top. To do this, grab a shallow spoon and a glass or can. Drag the spoon across the surface of the soup just deeply enough to catch the fat and dump your catch into your glass/can. If you have one of those nifty little gravy separators, use that to skim and that way you can put some of the broth that you will inevitably catch back into the soup.

  • The end result should look like this (that white thing to the right is the herb bag):

Soup While Cooking

  • When you think the soup is done, grab some tasting spoons. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  • And now, the best part: Ladle the soup into individual crocks. Place garlic croutons on top of the soup – you can use as many as you like.
  • Place the cheese on top of the croutons. If you are using Provolone, place the thin round slice over the top. If you are using Gruyère, slice thin bits using a potato peeler:

Cheese Prep

  • Turn on your broiler and make sure that the rack is close enough to catch the heat. Place the crocks in the broiler and watch them closely. The soup is done when the cheese is melted and golden and bubbly:

French Onion Soup Finished kitchenpants

Sprinkle with a little thyme or chives and dig in!

Perhaps you would like a little entertainment while you are eating? If so, take a look at Jennifer Jo’s website: www.jennyjo.com. Jen is an incredibly talented journalist who has covered a spectrum of issues always with a close eye to the human element of each one.

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