This recipe is a labour of love for me for two reasons. First, because to do it right, you need to take your time with the onions. Don’t rush it, let the pan and the butter and the onions do their thing. Second, I don’t actually eat french onion soup, but my wife loves it so a couple of times a year I make it just for her.
French Onion Soup
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of butter
- 2 tbsp any vegetable oil
- 4 large onions peeled and thinly sliced
- a splash of water
- a sprinkle or two of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup brandy, sherry, cognac or fortified wine such as Madeira or Marsala
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
- a sprinkle or two sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 slices hearty multi-grain bread
- 2 cups shredded Swiss, Gruyere or Emmental cheese
- For the caramelized onions, toss the butter and oil into in a large heavy stockpot set over medium-high heat. Melt the butter the oil will protect the butter and its flavour from burning and then add the onions, a splash of water and salt and pepper. Stir well, then cover with a tight-fitting lid. This will capture steam and help the onions release all their moisture.
- Cook, stirring now and then, until the onions soften and become quite wet, about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue cooking over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until all the water has evaporated. Lower the heat a bit and slowly begin to caramelize the onions, stirring them frequently. This will take about 1 hour. You don’t need to stir continuously, just enough to keep the onions from sticking to the bottom. Continuing to lower the heat will also help prevent sticking.
- For the soup, when the onions are a deep golden colour and have shrunk dramatically, add the brandy. Turn up the heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the additional liquid seems to have evaporated. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme leaves, season with salt and pepper and continue cooking for 15 minutes or so.
- To serve, preheat the broiler in your oven. Toast the bread slices to add flavour and help absorb the soup. Cut rounds out of the toast, large enough to fit your soup bowls.
- Ladle the soup into 4 ovenproof serving bowls. Top each with a slice or two of toasted bread rounds, enough to cover the top of the soup. Cover the bread with an even mound of shredded cheese. Broil until the cheese has melted and browned and looks beautiful.