My life’s greatest pleasure is French onion soup; rich beefy broth, sweet, soft onions, buttery bread, and gooey, crusty cheese. Is there anything better? When someone else makes it for you, it is the ultimate comfort food. By the time this recipe is ready, no matter how much you want to make it for yourself to soothe you after a long day or a cold night, you will forget why you wanted to make it in the first place. It shouldn’t deter you, though. This recipe isn’t complicated, but it does require some planning and forethought. Once you taste the first spoonful of this soup, you will be so pleased that you made an effort.
My friend gave me this recipe. He’s not my friend, but I can type whatever I want and claim it as truth since this is my blog.
The cookbook by Thomas has been in my possession for quite some time, but my husband and I have only cooked a few recipes from it. I don’t have many occasions to use his book because his recipes are not very figure-friendly. In addition, I did not have a particular recipe in mind when I offered to host in October. It was a perfect autumn day to make some French onion soup that I had planned for a few weeks.
In my opinion, onion soup is a French bistro classic, and I know Thomas does nothing half-heartedly. I decided to follow his recipe for onion soup because I thought it would be tasty and authentic, which I wanted from my first attempt at this soup.
I have made this soup twice. It turned out beautifully the first time. Nevertheless, I knew it could be better. Initially, I failed to read Thomas’ recipe ahead of time and did not realize he calls for homemade beef stock and would rather you use water than substitute canned stock for the homemade. I was concerned that using only water would not produce a rich enough broth, so I used half water and half store-bought stock as a compromise. It turned out to be an excellent compromise, one I would like to repeat.
The homemade beef stock, however, kept coming to mind, and I’d never made it before. In our tiny kitchen, we’ve made lots of chicken stock, but never beef stock. I decided to do it all over again and make his homemade beef stock as well. With the help of my butcher, I made my first homemade beef stock from meaty leg bones. The result was delicious! As the smell of the simmering beef broth drifted through our apartment, I knew that canned beef broth couldn’t even compare to the real thing—what an incredible aroma. While I won’t make it whenever I need beef stock, I will say that beef stock plays a significant role in my dish, like this soup!
With the homemade stock, the second batch of soup was out of this world. As of right now, it is Sunday, and I finished the soup today and tried some to write this article. It had a much deeper flavor than the first batch. Since he says that the soup gets even better if it sits for a day or two, I’ll “age” it in the fridge until Tuesday. This was so I could get a complete understanding of what Thomas expects this soup to be like, and I also need dinner on Tuesday that I can prepare quickly. When I have a whole bowl with cheese and all, I will update the post. It’s going to be delicious, I’m sure! I can’t wait to try it.
After the jump, you’ll find recipes for both the beef stock and the onion soup, as well as some photos of the preparation process. You’re going to have to take a deep breath and remind yourself that it will be worth it in the end because this one is going to belong. Though it isn’t tricky to make, I won’t lie and say that it’s simple. It takes effort, tenderness, and care, but it will be worth it in the end.
French Onion Soup
makes six servings
Two bay leaves
Twelve black peppercorns
Thyme sprigs, six large sprigs
Here’s the soup:
Yellow onions, 8 pounds (about eight large)
Butter, unsalted, four tablespoons (2 ounces)
Four tablespoons of olive oil
One and a half teaspoons of all-purpose flour
Beef Stock (recipe below): 3 1/2 quarts
Black pepper freshly ground
White wine/champagne vinegar or sherry wine vinegar
Baguette (diameter about 2 1/2 inches)
Olive oil extra virgin
Cut aged Comte or Emmentaler cheese into 6 to 12 slices (1/8 inch thick) (at least 4 inches square)
A combination of aged Comte and Emmentaler cheeses, or 1 1/2 cups grated
The following details are crucial to prepare a basic soup: Slice the onions evenly and brown them very slowly and evenly; slice the bread a half-inch thick and toast it in the oven, and serve the soup inappropriately sized bowls so that the melted cheese extends over the edge. It’s impossible to cook or eat a more satisfying soup than this when you get it just right.
You must simmer the onions so that the natural sugars caramelize rather than brown because of high heat during sauteing. During the cooking process, onions need to be stirred often, and they can be made up to two days ahead of time. For the flavors of the onion and beef broth to develop, the soup should be refrigerated for a day or two.
Traditionally, Comté is the cheese of choice, but Emmentaler is also good. Gruyère is too strong, and an aged cheese will form a crust and not melt like a younger cheese.
For the sachet, cut a square of cheesecloth about 7 inches wide. Tie a sachet with kitchen twine by placing the bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme in the center.
Prepare the soup by cutting the onions lengthwise in half and removing the tops and bottoms. Peel and remove the tough outer layers. Make a V-shape in each one to remove the core and remove the solid, flat pieces of onion running up from the center.
On a cutting board, lay the onion half cut side down with the root end facing you. Note the lines around the onion. It will be easier for the onions to soften if you cut on the lines rather than against them. Cut the onion in 1/4 inch thick slices, holding the knife at an angle almost parallel to the board. You must flip the onion onto its side, toward the knife, and slice it along the grain once again once you have sliced past the onion center. The knife angle will become awkward once you have cut past the onion center. Trim away any root sections still attached to the onion slices and hold them together. Continue with the remaining onions. About 7 quarts should be yielded.
Over medium heat, melt the butter and oil. Sprinkle with one tablespoon salt and onions. The onions should have wilted and released a lot of liquid by about one hour of stirring every 15 minutes and adjusting the heat to keep the mixture bubbling gently. Continuing to simmer the onions at this point will ensure maximum flavor and prevent them from scorching. If you wish, you can turn up the heat slightly to reduce the liquid. Then, continue stirring the onions every 15 minutes, scraping the bottom, and getting into the corners for another 4 hours, or until they are a deep, rich brown throughout. Once the liquid has evaporated, keep an eye on the onions. Remove them from the heat. The onions can be prepared up to 2 days ahead of time. Reserve any extra for another use. You will need 1 1/2 cups of onions for the soup.
Sift in the flour and cook over medium-high heat, constantly stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, if the caramelized onions have been refrigerated. Bring the beef stock and sachet to a boil, and simmer the liquid for 1 1/2 hours, or until it is reduced to 2 1/2 quarts. Add salt, pepper, and a few drops of vinegar to taste. Turn off the heat.
Preheat the broiler for the croissants. Place on a baking sheet twelve slices of baguette such that they are 3/8 inch thick (reserve the rest for another use). Sprinkle light salt on both sides of the bread after brushing it with olive oil. Toasted the first side under the broiler, then turned it over to brown the other. Remove from the broiler and set aside.
To finish, return the soup to a simmer. On a baking sheet, place six flameproof soup tureens with a capacity of about 1 1/2 cups to catch any spills (the soup will bubble up and over the tureens). Fill the tureens with hot soup to within 1/2 inch of the top. Add two croutons to each serving: Lay them on the surface rather than pushing them into the soup. Overlap the slices of cheese by about 1/2 inch over the croutons. Scatter the grated cheese over the sliced cheese, filling in any thinner spots, or the cheese may melt into the soup instead of forming a crust.
During the broiling process, the tureens will bubble, brown, and form a thick cheese crust. Be careful when eating, as the soup and tureens will be very hot.
Okay, if you want to challenge yourself, you can make Thomas’ beef stock. This was my first time making homemade beef stock, and I found it very simple and worth the effort.
makes 3 1/2 quarts
In addition to onion soup, we combine this stock with veal stock to make beef stew. A rich brown stock is made by first roasting the bones and then simmering them with caramelized vegetables.
Canola oil, about two tablespoons
5 pounds of meaty beef necks or leg bones
Peeled two small Spanish onions (about 8 ounces total)
Salt, 1/2 teaspoon Kosher
Peeled and cut in 4 pieces a carrot weighing 3 ounces (1 large)
Three ounces of leek, trimmed roots, split lengthwise, rinsed, and cut into 2-inch pieces, or the tops of the leeks
Thyme, one large sprig
Italian parsley, one large sprig
Three bay leaves
Black peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon
Cut one head of garlic in half horizontally
Set the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Preheat the oven for about 10 minutes with a large roasting pan.
Place the beef bones in a single layer in the hot roasting pan and add one tablespoon of the oil. Turn each bone after well browned on the bottom only after roasting for about 45 minutes or until well browned.
Meanwhile, cut one onion in half crosswise. Place a small heavy skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Put one half of an onion cut side down on one side of the skillet so that it is not over direct heat, and let it cook until it is dark and charred about 30 minutes. Set aside to add color to the stock.
Reduce the oven temperature to 400F after removing the roasting pan of bones from the oven. Drain bones in a large colander over a baking sheet.
Fat should be drained from the roasting pan and discarded. Place the pan over medium heat, add about 1 cup of water, and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the pan juices. Simmer until they are reduced by half. Transfer the fond to a large pot.
Add about 5 quarts of cold water to the bones in the stockpot, just enough to cover them. Adding cold water to juices will cause any fat present to rise to the surface; use a skimmer to remove and discard the fat. Add salt and half of the charred onion. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, skimming off the impurities that rise to the surface. Simmer gently for 5 hours, skimming often. Add water if the liquid level falls below the bones.
You skim skim skim for this reason. This is fat.
In the meantime, cut the remaining whole onion into quarters and the remaining half onion in half again in a roasting pan that can hold the onions, carrots, and leeks in a single layer. Toss the remaining one tablespoon canola oil and roast for 20 minutes.
After the vegetables have been roasting for 20 minutes, remove them from the oven and stir them. Remove from the oven.
In the 5th hour of simmering the stock, add the caramelized vegetables, herbs, peppercorns, and garlic and continue to simmer for 1 hour more. After one hour, turn the heat off and allow the stock to rest for 10 minutes.
Make an ice bath. In the bowl, place a strainer. If the bones are removed, or the liquid is poured through the bones, the stock will become cloudy. Instead, carefully strain the stock through a strainer, tilting the pot as necessary to get all the stock out. With a dampened cheesecloth, strain a second time through a chinois or fine mesh strainer.
The first strain is shown here.
Here’s the cheesecloth after the second strain, which is why this is a critical step.
Take a stock measurement. Pour any excess into a saucepan and reduce to 3 1/2 quarts. The stock should be strained into a container and cooled in an ice bath. Stir occasionally. If you wish to store the stock for a longer period, freeze it in several containers.
It is essential to bring the stock back to a boil after three days, cool it, then refrigerate it.