The Best French Onion Soup

Guest Post by Roger

I love French onion soup, but it has to be freshly made.  No canned soup for me.  Recently, we had company over for dinner; and I decided that I would make a variation of my favorite steak meal—filet mignon, baked potato, salad with Roquefort dressing, and French onion soup au gratin.  I came by this combo during job interviews after graduate school and, in particular, fell in love with the French onion soup which, I was told, was a house recipe.  That was 33 years ago.  I had never had such a great tasting soup, until about a year ago.  I told Fran this story and she responded with several recipes for French onion soup.  We filtered them based upon ingredients and technique until we settled on one that looked like it could match my expectations.  The one that we selected was from America’s Test Kitchen because Fran swears by their recipes and techniques.

Still, I made a couple of slight variations to this recipe.  ATK recipe calls for bay leaf and thyme. I am not a big fan of thyme, so I eliminated it.  Nobody who ate the soup asked, “Where has the thyme gone?”  Several reviewers of this recipe mentioned using different wines (ATK calls for 1/2 cup sherry).  I believe that the soup would be OK regardless of the wine that I used which, in this case, was 1/2 cup of Marsala.  In retrospect, I think that any red wine would have worked.  The soup calls for both beef stock and chicken stock, which I followed to the letter, although I used the brands that I had in the pantry (Swanson’s Beef Stock and Kirkland’s Organic Chicken Broth).

Let me say this right off.  The most important feature of onion soup is caramelizing the onions to a rich dark brown.  If you stop short, you might as well buy canned soup (my opinion).  I don’t think that how you do the caramelizing is as important as to the degree to which you do it.  Since I am used to making roux for gumbo in a pan, I had no problem stirring the onions on the cooktop while I did other things in the kitchen.

When our friends tasted their soup, Fran and I heard two “Mmm’s” so chalk up another great recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.  If you’re as much of a French onion soup fan as I am, you will love this soup.

One year ago:  Peanut Butter Brownies, Bostini Cream Pies

French Onion Soup

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Ingredients (for 6-8 servings)

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 large yellow or Vidalia onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry or dry red wine
  • 4 cups chicken broth (I used Organic Free Range Chicken Broth from COSTCO)
  • 2 cups beef broth (I used Swanson’s)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Ground black pepper (three or four turns)
  • 1 small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • Gruyère cheese

Cooking the Onions

ATK recommends doing them in the oven and finishing them on the stove, and I would recommend this if you are busy with many other things in the kitchen.  So place your cut onions in a large Dutch oven and bake for 20 minutes at 350F.  Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir the onions at about the 10 minute mark.  Scrape the fond from the sides and bottom of the Dutch oven and mix into the onions.  The onions should be turning golden at this point.  Continue until they start darkening.  Remove from the oven and finish caramelizing on the stove top, stirring constantly.  Alternatively, and this is what I did, take a large (8-qt.) pot and caramelize the onions in it on the stove top.

You can cover the pot and cook on medium to medium high heat stirring every 3-5 minutes, more frequently as time goes on.  Always be scraping the fond from the bottom and sides of the pot.  When the onions are a nice brown, admire them but KEEP going until they approach a dark brown.

At that point, add about 1/2 cup of water to help remove the fond from the pan.  Stir until the liquid is reduced by about 50%.  Do this three more times.  At this point, stir in the wine so it is well distributed.  Let it reduce a little.  Stir in the beef broth and then chicken broth.  Add the bay leaf and twists of pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

The soup is now ready for final preparation.

Final Preparation

I cooked the soup ahead and stored it in the refrigerator until dinner time.  We used about 50% for a meal with four of us, thus we could use it with another meal.

For preparation, I reheated the soup to steaming hot on the cooktop.  I then ladled about 1 1/2 cups of soup into oven-proof 2-cup serving crocks.  Baguettes cut into about 3/8” slices and toasted in the oven were placed in the soup but not submerged.  The soup was topped with roughly 2-3 tablespoons shredded Gruyère cheese (too much cheese will make it too gummy).  These were placed under the broiler about 4-5” from the heating coils and watched carefully.  When the cheese just begins to brown, it is done and ready to serve.

Fran’s Notes

After tasting this French onion soup, I retired all the other recipes in my file.  This is “the one.”

Source:  A Cook’s Illustrated recipe (This is a premium site.)

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