Specificity is key
The saga of my homemade French Onion soup started with miscommunication. I have a Dear Husband (DH, for short) who is caring, considerate, and he makes me laugh. Frequently. We have a pretty good division of labor in our household: in general, he’ll clean the house and pay the bills and I’ll shop & cook and do the laundry & ironing (don’t judge…it works for us). Every so often he will go grocery shopping for me, but I have to be very specific about what items I need. And when I’m not specific enough…well…you can guess the rest. Case in point…I had put onions on our grocery list, and by that I meant the basic yellow-brown onions that are in many dishes (although I didn’t specify that on the list). My DH initially bought 2 of what he thought were the right onions, only to hear from me that what he bought were Vidalia (i.e. sweet) onions. Not what I wanted, but no big deal…I could find a use for them. But I still needed onions.
I’m going to stop here to say that we use an iPhone app called AnyList for our grocery lists so that any member of our household can add items to the various stores’ lists as needed, and there is an area for comments and quantity for each item (it’s a really useful app!). I had trained my family long ago that if it isn’t on the list, I don’t buy it. I say this so that you know that when my DH went to the store for me, he had the list on his phone and wasn’t just relying on an outdated paper list or (gasp!) memory.
Anyway, back to the onions…a week later my DH decided to go grocery shopping again because I had just started training in a new job and didn’t have time to get to the store (I told you, he’s very considerate!). This time he saw the memo I put on the list that I wanted yellow onions (3 this time). He confidently came home with yellow onions…and…well, sweet onions are yellowish on the outside while regular onions are brown on the outside, yellow on the inside. See where I’m going?
Score: Sweet onions – 5, regular onions – 0.
So what do you do when life hands you 5 sweet onions? Do you make onion-ade? No, you make homemade French Onion Soup (finally, back to the point!). The sweetness of these onions really shines through as you slowly caramelize them, and it complements the sweetness of the sherry and nuttiness of the melted cheese. Added bonus…you get to play with the chef’s torch! You have to set aside an afternoon because you want to caramelize the onions low and slow (cold, rainy Sundays are designed for this type of cooking). I adapted the Epicurious French Onion Soup recipe to use the onion cooking method from Michael Ruhlman’s Traditional French Onion Soup (you’ll see my notation in Step 1 of the recipe below). As always, my comments and modifications are in italics.
Homemade French Onion Soup
Yield: 4 main course servings (or 6 appetizer servings)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (I use 3 Tbsp ghee (clarified butter) for cooking the onions, and 2 Tbsp butter to finish the soup)
- 3 pounds Vidalia onions (about 4 medium), halved lengthwise, peeled, and thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- 4 cups homemade beef stock (or store-bought low-sodium beef broth)
- 2 cups water
- 10 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 baguette
- 1 garlic clove, cut in half lengthwise
- 2 teaspoons sherry, preferably Fino or Manzanilla (I use Cognac instead)
- 4 ounces Gruyère or Emmentaler cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
Special equipment: kitchen twine, six 8-ounce or four 16-ounce oven-safe ramekins or bowls (optional)
- From Michael Ruhlman: An enameled cast-iron pot will provide the best surface. Place the pot over medium heat and melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onions, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt, cover, and cook until the onions have heated through and started to steam. Uncover, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally (you should be able to leave the onions alone for an hour at a stretch once they’ve released their water). Season with several grinds of pepper.
- Going back to Epicurious: When the onions have completely cooked down, the water has cooked off, and the onions have turned amber – this can take 1 or more hours (mine took 1-1/2 hours) – add wine and raise heat to high. Cook until almost all liquid has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Tie thyme and bay leaves into a bundle with twine. Add stock, water, and herb bundle to pot with onions. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until broth is thickened and flavorful, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Taste and adjust seasoning (you can add ½ tsp sugar if the soup isn’t sweet enough, but I find I don’t need it).
- Heat the broiler. Cut two 1/2-inch baguette slices for every serving of soup. Place baguette slices on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until crisp and dry but not browned, about 1 minute per side (or just use a toaster). Rub one side of each toast with the garlic clove and set aside.
- Place ramekins or oven safe bowls on a rimmed baking sheet, add 1/2 teaspoon of sherry to the bottom of each, and ladle soup on top. Top each serving of soup with two garlic-rubbed toasts. Divide cheese among the servings, covering the bread and some of the soup. Carefully broil the tops of the soup with a Chef’s torch until cheese is melted and bubbling or transfer baking sheet to oven and broil, 4 to 8 minutes. (Alternatively, if using regular soup bowls: Top each garlic-rubbed toast with some cheese and return to broiler to melt, about 2 minutes more. Divide sherry and soup among bowls, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and top each serving with two cheese toasts.)
Soup can be made up to 3 days ahead (without toasts or cheese) if refrigerated, or up to 6 months ahead if frozen. Toasts can be made (without cheese) and kept sealed at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Homemade French Onion soup is wonderful to share on a cold day with someone you love. Leave your comments below about grocery mishaps and how you solved them…any funny stories to share? And to my wonderful DH, thanks for all you do for me!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!