Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Epicurean Epiphany: French Onion Soup

Me and the onion.  We're pretty tight.  Good thing, since I slice and dice anywhere from 5-15 onions everyday.  That's a lot of onion.  And at the end of the day I smell like a lot of onion...not one of the perks of being a chef.  Just hope I don't run into any cute boys on the way home from work.  On the good days when I'm wearing contacts, the whole onion vs. eyeball  thing isn't much of an issue.  But the days I don my glasses - it's a river running down my face.  Horrible stuff, crying at work. Don't recommend it at all, unless they are tears of joy - like you just got that massive raise you were hoping for. Or you just won the lottery.  Good thing I don't have much of a social life so I almost always wear contacts at work.  No one wants tears in their food, am I right?

We never ate out super lots when I was a kid.  The small town I grew up in had 2 Chinese restaurants, a handful of Greek family style restos, some pizza places and of course the fast food joints.  Quite the dining landscape, no?  Birthdays, and the odd night Mom was too tired to cook, we piled into the car and headed down the four-laner, usually for mediocre Greek/Italian food.  My very first job (outside of babysitting for $3/hour), was bussing tables at one of the Greek restaurants.  I was 13. maybe 14 (was that legal? I don't know), and oh my God, I totally sucked.  I spilled water on people, ruined the coffee machine, broke a tray of wine glasses.  And that was just my first night.  Won't get into the dirty details; therapy has helped me suppress them I think.  But the good news is I didn't last long (surprise!), and went on to better part time jobs after that.  Who knew that only 10 years later I'd be enrolled in culinary school?   I'm still better behind the scenes than amongst the people, clearing their plates.

Before I was traumatized employed by the restaurant world, I fondly recall tucking into my first bowl of French Onion Soup.  (Mom never made this soup at home - we were a chicken noodle, cream of mushroom, and tomato clan - all from scratch, thankfully!)  I was probably around 10 and the first time this bowl of steaming cheesy goodness was placed before me, I was like, hello.  Maybe the cook was having a good night, or maybe my taste buds were thrilled with the taste of something new, (probably a combo of both), but I fell in love.  While my siblings were dunking chicken fingers into honey mustard, or beef dip into jus, I had an epicurean epiphany:  melted cheese on top of soup good.  It was dreamy.  Still is. 

Any vessel for melted cheese always gets bonus points with me, and I know I'm not the only one who thinks this.  Unless, of course, you are not eating dairy, then I'm sorry.  Truly.  If you are eating dairy and have a fondness for onions like I do, then this soup is for you, and it's really not that difficult to make.  The recipe calls for heaps of onions, but don't be scared by that - they cook down to pretty much nothing, in a good glob of butter.  Get them nice and brown too, scraping up all of those lovely bits from the bottom of the pot.  I could have let mine go longer, but like I've said before, patience is not one of my virtues.  I used sweet white onions and white wine to deglaze, but you can use red for both if you like.  Chicken stock was all I had in the house, but you can use beef (traditional) or veggie, if you prefer.  Cheese, again is all up to you.  Gruyere is my fave, but Swiss or Asiago or a combo would be wonderful.  Don't think you can't make this soup because you don't have pretty little bowls to put under the broiler.  (I got mine for $1 at the second hand store!)  In years past I've just made cheesy croutons and placed them on top of the hot soup.  Not authentic, but the flavours and textures are still there, and that's all that matters.

French onion is physical soup - breaking through that cheesy lid; slurping up that sweet onion broth  Cheese usually strings allover the place and broth runs down the chin.  Might not be pretty, but so worth it.  I'm still prone to ordering French Onion Soup once in awhile if I see it on a menu - if only to take me back to when I was 10, sitting in an upholstered booth with my Mom and siblings, sipping a Shirley Temple and wondering who shot J.R.

French Onion Soup 

3 tbsp butter
3 large onions, about 10 cups, thinly sliced
salt, pepper
2 tsp sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 cup white wine
4-5 cups chicken, beef or veggie broth
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp dried thyme or fresh
crusty sour dough or French bread or baguette
Swiss, Gruyere, Asiago cheese, your choice

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium high heat.  Add the sliced onions, stirring well in the butter, keep on med high heat until they start releasing some liquid.  I sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar at this time, to encourage the caramelization process.  Once the onions start to wilt, reduce heat to medium low, leave them be for a bit, so they get a little brown, stir, then ignore for a bit.  Do this until they are nice and golden brown.  About 30-40 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, cook a few more minutes.  Stir in the Dijon, then white wine.  Bring to a boil and bring up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  Stir in the broth and soy sauce.  Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and let it go for another 15 minutes.  Season with thyme, more salt and pepper if needed.  Scoop into oven proof bowls, top with bread and a good sprinkling of cheese.  Place under preheated broiler and leave there until golden and gorgeous.  If you don't have oven proof bowls, just make place cheese on bread, bake until golden and place on top of hot soup.  Done.  Makes about 4-6 servings.


  1. French Onion is my absolute favorite soup. Even if it is messy. Sounds like a good recipe.

  2. I remember some less than mediocre French onion soups at local restaurants, it wasn't until I was much older that I had my first taste of what it is supposed to be!!!

  3. looks fantastic Renee! call me one of these days. I need some recipe ideas to send a friend in Lithuania in exchange for some authentic Filipino dishes.

  4. This is my fav winter soup. The pictures are way too tempting. :)

  5. this will go on my meal planning idea list for sure! We got a ton of onions from a local organic farmer, and traded a friend some canned goods for a bunch of homegrown shallots.

  6. Hey Renee,
    I've got a ton of onion thanks to my CSA. And now thanks to you, I know what to do with them;)

  7. I LOVE french onion soup... The scent of onions as they caramelize, picking and eating the crusted crunchy cheese bits stuck to the side of your soup bowl... The onion breath... Torturing your significant other with your onion breath... All good things...

  8. I can't let my husband see this post, he'd want me to make this right away. It's gorgeous and one of his favourite soups.

  9. Lurve French onion soup! You're completely right- cheese on top of soup is a really good thing. Love those cute little bowls- good score lady!

  10. Thank you so much - you guys are too kind! This is one of my favourite soups for sure - good thing I stashed some in the freezer for when I'm in need of a good cheese fix.

  11. People in my classes never believe me that contacts are like little goggles for your eyes when chopping onions - you can chop onions forever, wearing them :)

  12. Gorgeous photos! When I used to work at a restaurant, French Onion Soup was the one thing that could never be taken off the menu or people would riot. I used to chop a lot of onions... :)

  13. Yes, I too remember the soup and had a tear in my eye when you told me what your latest blog would be. This is next on my list due to my loads of onions in the cold room. Just lovely Renee. your sis.

  14. i am making this right now,
    and i have made it before.
    I use this recipe EVERY TIME
    i love this !! thank you for sharing !!

  15. Do you decorate wedding cakes?

    1. No, I don't. That's one skill I have yet to master. And I don't wanna goof up anyone's big day :)

  16. Are you supposed to toast the bread at all before you put it in the soup?

    1. Hi April, you don't have to toast the bread, but if you'd like to, go ahead. Thanks for asking!

  17. Making this for a second time tomorrow night. My heart is happy when cooking with your recipes.


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...