The key to a great French onion soup is patience. There’s so much flavour to be found in the onions alone, but if you rush the process, you’ll risk missing out on their full potential. By taking it low and slow, the natural sugars in the onions break down, allowing them to caramelize. This results in some serious depth of flavour! If possible, I highly recommend using homemade stock (beef, chicken or a mix), which is something I always make sure to keep handy in my freezer. Whether I’m using it for cooking, or as a base for a soup, it’s a simple way to elevate the final dish. That said, if you’re in a pinch, store-bought will do! Enjoy this lovely recipe from Lionel & Hetta.
6 large yellow onions, quartered lengthwise and sliced ¼ inch thin
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sherry
2 tsp balsamic reduction
1 Tbsp. sambal oelek
8 cups homemade stock (or quality store bought)
3-5 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
1 baguette or fresh sourdough loaf, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 1/2 – 2 lb. Gruyere, shredded
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high. Once hot, add the oil and the butter to the pot, and wait for it to foam. Add half the onions and allow them to cook down, stirring frequently. Once they’re slightly translucent, add the remaining onions and continue to stir frequently. After about 10-15 minutes, the onions should be quite soft. Be very careful not to let them burn.
Lower the heat as much as possible, and spread the onions into an even layer across the bottom of the pot. Allow them to cook, untouched, for a few minutes before stirring again. As the pot comes down in temperature, this length of time will extend, and you should be able to leave the onions for reasonable stretches, allowing them to darken, but not burn.
Continue to redistribute the onions evenly across the bottom of the pot, allowing them to eventually cook down and darken to a deep brown hue. This process will take approximately 2 hours.
NOTE: If you do not want to fish out the thyme sprigs and bay leaves once the soup is done, you can wrap them in cheesecloth and use kitchen twine to tie off the ends.
Once the onions are very soft, dark, and sweet, stir in the sherry and balsamic reduction. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes, or until the wine has reduced significantly. Add the sambal oelek, homemade stock, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and salt, and allow to simmer for another 30-45 minutes.
While the soup is finishing, turn your oven on broil. If you’re using a baguette, slice two pieces of bread per bowl of soup. If you’re using a whole loaf of your preferred bread, create half slices that will fit into each bowl. Rub each slice with olive oil and scatter them on a sheet pan. Place on the middle rack and allow to broil until golden. For extra crispy pieces, flip and repeat on the opposite side.
NOTE: For extra flavour, rub a clove of garlic over the crispy bread slices, before adding them to the soup.
Once the soup is done, season with salt and pepper to taste. Place 4-6 French onion soup bowls on a sheet pan, and ladle the soup into each bowl, leaving about a half-inch of space at the top. Carefully place the bread on top, so it floats and remains flat. Divide the cheese evenly and carefully build a small mountain over each piece of bread. You want to try to keep the cheese above the liquid, so it doesn’t get wet. It’s okay if the cheese melts over the sides of the bowl. French Onion Soup is meant to be this way.
Place the sheet pan in the oven under the broiler and leave it until the cheese has browned and become crusty at the edges.
Serve garnished with thyme, and enjoy!
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