I remember the first time I had French Onion Soup. Actually, I don’t, but if you allow me to totally make up a story, it goes like this: I was hitchhiking across provincial France one summer when I was in college. After stopping in a small town for some bread and cheese, I noticed a wafting smell emanating from a cottage close to the marketplace area of the town. It was heavenly. It smelled like perfume…the perfect blend of peasantry and precision in food that carried me through the air like a Bugs Bunny cartoon where he gets the perfumed inner thigh smell of a carrot in his nostrils, which renders him helpless and catatonic as he slowly drifts thru the air towards the source of the smell.
I approached the cottage, knocked on the door, and was greeted by the most beautiful French woman you could imagine. She was fetching in the most humble ways…naturally beautiful, however she was reticent in seeing a stranger at her door who was sniffing the air like a bloodhound. In my broken French asked, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”
Looking perplexed and glancing down at her feet, she said, “Ils sont mes chaussures.”
Actually, I think the first time I had French Onion Soup was at a Jason’s Deli or a La Madeleine or something like that. Either way, it left an impression on me.
Since I can’t recreate pastoral France nor is there a deli anywhere around me, I have to create my own FOS if I want some. Fortunately for me, my FOS is world’s beyond what you can normally find in a chain restaurant. Every young onion dreams of someday being the main ingredient in this powerhouse soup. So, without further adieu…he we goes.
Mise en place:
-two large yellow onion
-one large red onion
-one large white onion
-3/4c of cabernet sauvignon
-1/4c of port
-6 strips of bacon
-4-5 cloves of garlic
-carton of beef broth
-carton of beef stock
-a nice french loaf
Boil some water in a large pot and add a bit of salt to soften the water.
Add the onions:
Blanche them for 2-3 minutes.
Then dump into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
This will make the skins easier to remove. You want to remove the outside layers that are papery. They’ll be quite toothsome in the soup, and you don’t want that.
While they are cooling off, get your big stock pot out and render 6 strips of good bacon. Don’t cook on high…you need to be able to crisp the bacon up but not burn.
Remove the skins of the cooled onions.
Half the onions, then julienne into strips. You want nice bite-sized strips. If you cut them too thin, they’ll disappear in the cooking. Make them too big, and they aren’t very fun to eat.
Do this will all the onions.
The red onions make a beautiful addition to the soup. They’ll leach that red color out into the soup.
Once the bacon is crispy and the fat is all cooked out, remove the bacon. Save it for a BLT or something. Don’t throw away good bacon.
Add all of the onion to the bacon fat.
Stir them so they are good and coated with the fat. Add some salt to make them start to cook down to translucent.
Five cloves of garlic, smashed and diced. I like to leave the garlic in small chunks so it has some texture to it in the soup.
Curl your fingers in and let the blade of the knife hit your knuckles. That way, you don’t get cut.
Add the garlic. More salt if you need.
Fresh ground pepper.
While the onions and garlic are cooking, measure out ¾c of red wine. I like using a tasty table wine that is good enough to drink along with the meal. The combo of the wine plus the soup is a great complement.
Plus 1/4c of your favorite port. I had an open bottle of vintage in my bar and needed to use it.
After a few minutes, the onion will start to become translucent so that you can see thru the edges.
Add the wines to the onions. The wine will immediately lose its deep ruby color and turn kinda brown. We need it to mellow a bit before we add the stock/broth.
And a bit more salt. Taste this along the way. The salt helps drive the moisture out of the onion and make them soft.
After a bit, the wine will mix with the moisture rendered from the onion and turn all of the onion a nice pink color.
Now, since we are going to be serving red wine with this meal, I like to mix in beef stock and beef broth. Beef stock will have fat where the broth should be just about fat free. When you drink a red wine with big tannins, serve it with a fatty dish. The fat will coat the mouth and calm the tannins so that you can experience the fruit w/o drawing your mouth up.
Bring it up to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat to a low simmer.
That needs to simmer on low for an hour and a half. At this point, salt and pepper to taste, but be careful. Over the next hour, the flavor is going to change drastically as all the flavors meld together. Now, notice that all we’ve added so far is salt and pepper for flavor. No herbs, no spices. That’s by design. The beef stock should be prepared with a bouquet garni for flavor. The natural flavor of the wine, the bacon, and the onion/garlic is going to be complex enough for us.
Taste it along the way. You’ll use more salt than you’d think, but be careful not to oversalt it. It’s best to get it to the point where you think it still needs just a bit more, then after the rest you’ll find that it’s perfect.
After an hour (notice the fat glistening on top):
After the hour and a half long simmer, turn off the heat and let it rest uncovered. While it’s resting, cut a french loaf into 1″ slices.
Brush the olive oil onto both sides of each slice of bread, then salt and pepper for each side.
Into a 425deg oven until nice and brown.
The crispy bread is integral to a FOS.
When the soup is finished, ladle portions into a high-sided bowl or a crock.
Put a crouton right in the middle of the bowl just on top of the soup. Don’t push it down…just float it right on top.
Take a slice or two of provolone cheese and lay it over the crouton.
Now, some people like to turn their broiler on, slide the crock into the oven, and melt the cheese under the searing heat of the broiler. That’s a great way to do it. However, I like to use my kitchen torch to do it. I can be a bit more precise and get the cheese cooked to the perfect sear up close.
Served with a bit of that tasty wine, and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal.
Here it is in its full glory. Bust thru the crouton that’s been soaking up that soup and spoon up the cheese with those onions.
And there you have it. French Onion Soup that will change your life.