I have been asked to share my recipe for French Onion Soup. The problem is that it’s not so much a recipe as an event. I suppose I could give you a “recipe” but that would just feel wrong. There is so much to say about every component that doesn’t fit in a regular recipe. So many variations and options and theory-art and science and much to say about my journey to French Onion Soup perfection. I will spare you the science and the details of my journey, but will impart as much information as necessary to create the best French Onion Soup you’ve ever served and to embark on your own journey French Onion Soup perfection.
(make this the day before)
one big package of beef bones
one large onion
a couple of carrots
a couple of bay leaves
a sprig or two of thyme and/or rosemary
Most grocery stores will have beef bones and they’re cheap. If you don’t see any, flag down a meat department employee and ask for beef soup bones.
Put the bones in a large pan. Cut the root end off the onion, remove only the first papery layer and cut it into big chunks then toss in the pan. Cut the carrots into large pieces and toss them in too. Drizzle the whole lot with some canola oil. Roast in a 450F oven until the beef is dark. How long this takes will depend on how big the pieces of bone are. Stop just shy of burnt.
Put everything in a large soup pot, add the spices and herbs then cover with cold water. Put the lid on and turn the heat to medium. Once it starts to simmer, turn it down to the lowest setting possible and leave it there for 6 or 8 hours.
Strain the chunks off through a cheesecloth.
You now have a beautiful broth for soup or gravy or any kind of sauce. I freeze broth in freezer bags. If you do it so that the frozen packet is flat it takes up hardly any room in your freezer and thaws really quickly. This is important for me because I have a wee apartment freezer and don’t own a microwave.
(also make the day before)
3 cups flour
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
Mix flour, sugar, yeast and salt together, add the warm water. Mix until it forms a ball, then knead for 5 minutes at least. Bread dough can be fussy and you really have to practice to know how much water to use and get the kneading technique down. I don’t want to scare you away because baking your own bread is very much worth the effort. Please don’t be discouraged if your first attempt(s) don’t look like what you get in the local bakery. What you’re making is a different thing entirely so it’s not fair to compare.
Smear some oil on the dough, put it in a bowl with a towel over it and leave it in a warm place to rise for about an hour. Ideally it will double in size.
Gently deflate the dough, divide in two and shape into 2 baguettes. Cover with a tea towel while you’re preheating the oven to 375F. Bake for about 20 minutes until the loaves are golden.
1 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 pounds onions
1 tsp sugar
Cut the onions in half, root to blossom end, then slice so that you get julienne strips.
Heat a large pan to medium or medium low, preferably non-stick, heat the oil. Throw all the onions in, sprinkle with sugar.
Resist the urge to stir the onions until they have started to colour. Once the bottom layer has a bit of colour, give the onions a stir, then leave them alone again until the bottom layer gets colour again.
The key to carmelizing onions is to leave them alone. Don’t stand there and stir them or they will never get brown.
1 1/2 to 2 litres of beef broth
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup merlot
Move the onions to your soup pot. Deglaze the onion pan and add to the soup pot. Add the beef broth, thyme, merlot and salt. Bring up to heat. Taste it and adjust the seasonings.
The assembly and presentation
Slice the bread into thick slices. Toast until crunchy.
Shred mozzerella and provolone cheese. I use about half and half. Toss together so it’s mixed evenly.
Ladle the soup into individual oven proof soup bowls. Top each bowl with a toasted slice of bread, put a little too much cheese on top of that, then put under the broiler until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
It will be too hot to eat for a few minutes.
Enjoy with a glass of wine.