It’s a rare occasion that I’m in the mood for soup, let alone in the mood to make it. However, the weather around here is taking an unfavorable turn for the colder; and colder weather is perfect soup weather. One of my favorite soups of all time is French Onion, so I figured it was high time to try my hand at making a pot.
Traditional French Onion Soup
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 7 or 8 Spanish onions (7 to 8 pounds/3.2 to 3.6 kilograms), thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 to 12 slices of baguette or any country-style bread (it’s best if they cover the width of your serving bowls)
- 1/3 cup/75 milliliters sherry
- Red or white wine vinegar (optional)
- Red wine (optional)
- 1/2 to 3/4 pound/225 to 340 grams Gruyère or Emmanthaler cheese, grated
- Use a large pot, with a capacity of about 7 1/2 quarts/7.1 liters, that will hold all the onions. An enameled cast-iron pot will provide the best surface. Place the pot over medium and melt the butter. 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.
- Preheat the oven to 200°F/95°C. Place the bread slices in the oven and let dry completely (you can leave the slices in the oven indefinitely, as the heat is not high enough to burn them).
- When the onions have completely cooked down, the water has cooked off, and the onions have turned amber—this will take several hours—add 6 cups/1.4 liters of water. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Add the sherry. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too sweet, add some vinegar. If you would like a little more depth, add a splash of red wine. I like the onion-to-liquid ratio with 6 cups of water. But if you’d prefer a little more delicate soup, add 1 cup/240 milliliters water.
- Preheat the broiler/grill. Portion the soup into bowls, float the bread on top, cover with the cheese, and broil/grill until the cheese is melted and nicely browned. Serve immediately.
I started my day at the grocery store, and picked up the necessary supplies. The 7 to 8 pounds of onions that Ruhlman suggests seemed like overkill for the amount of soup I was aiming for, so I went for a little less and ended up weighing in at around 6 and a half pounds of Spanish onions. Once I got home I realized that even my reduced amount of onions wasn’t going to fit in my 6.5 qt dutch oven. I then cut my amount of onions down to roughly 5 pounds.
I peeled and sliced these onions, then threw them into the dutch oven with the melted butter and then salted them. Once the onions released their liquid and began to simmer in it, the entire house began to smell amazing. However, what didn’t smell amazing was my hands. Something to keep in mind when cutting this many onions. After cooking for about an hour, I realized that I could have in fact used all of the onions I had bought and been fine since they shrank so much during cooking, as shown below:
After 3 1/2 hours of simmering away in their own juices, the onions were finished. It was time to add the final few ingredients. At this point, and with apologies to Mr. Ruhlman, I diverged from the recipe, and his advice. I like my French Onion soup to have a certain richness to it, so I added some beef broth.
For the liquid in the soup, I used roughly 2 cups of beef broth and about 4 cups of water. Along with that I added about 1/4 cup of sherry rather than the 1/3 cup, fearing that the extra would be too much. I also added a splash of some sweet red wine that was open in the fridge.
During the time that the onions were cooking away, I sliced some bread and dried it in the oven at 200 degrees. As was pointed out in the recipe, this will not burn the bread at all, but will just dry it out.
Once the soup was finished, and the bread was dried out, it was time for assembly. I decided I wanted to go for the full restaurant effect and brown the Swiss cheese under the broiler. After having done that, I realized that that trick should be left in the restaurant where you don’t have to do the dishes afterwards. One thing I made sure to do was to preheat my soup bowl before I put it under the broiler to avoid any thermal shock and cracking of the bowl.
So after all was said and done, the final product was just as good as my favorite recipe from a restaurant. The only thing that my wife and I said needed changed for next time was the addition of more liquid to the soup, since the onion to broth ratio seemed to be a little off. I’ll definitely be making this again.