“I’ll have the french onion soup without the onions” – a coworker of mine once said. WHAT? Without the onions?!? They’re so delicious! She says she doesn’t like the texture of the onions, but she loves the rich depth of flavor of the broth. I don’t get her on the texture, but she’s got me on the broth. Mmmmmmmmmmmm so rich, buttery, and decadent its hard to believe it comes from those make-you-cry onions. Oh but it does, slowly caramelizing the onions lends that depth of flavor that even if you don’t like onions you’ll still love french onion soup (although seriously….leave in the onions!!). Add to that some thick bread with a good crust and some tangy cheese melted on top – perfection in a bowl and perfect for cool fall day in Chicago.
I don’t think I’ve ever had french onion soup before. All those onions are intimidating! I mean, I like onions – as part of a soup or stew, but the whole thing…? It sounds kind of old-school to me. Like from a time before other vegetables were invented. Or maybe just from the fifties.
Anyway, it seems kind of mysterious. It’s served in these special bowls, and the inside is hidden by this cheesy crust. What’s under there anyway? I’m eager to give it a whirl and find out!
Where's the beef?
So Jen and I looked up some recipes to get an idea of the flavor profile. I figure the base flavor – aside from the onions – is a beefy broth. We decided to “beef” up our store-bought broth with a cheap cut of beef – maybe add some depth of flavor to the soup that we can’t get from the broth alone.
We splashed a little olive oil in the pot, and browned the beef, then took it out to rest.
The next step is allllll about the onions. (Side note: Just use the cheapest onions you can find, never use the expensive Vidalia onions if you’re going to cook them– it’s a waste. What makes the Vidalia onions sweeter raw is they have less sulfuric compounds, but those all evaporate when you cook, so cooked Vidalia will taste the same as cooked cheap onion).
We cut up a bunch of onions into long strips
We cooked it on low with the lid on for a while along with a cup of white wine, until everything was softened up, then took the lid off and cranked it to med-high to drive off all the moisture and get the onions caramelized. We added a teaspoon of sugar to help the caramelization process. I think we could have done this a bit differently. Why add the sugar? We don’t need it to caramelize the onions, just some low heat. The same with the business of the lid on, lid off. Maybe it helped us to cook them slowly? They turned out pretty nice!
All that kept running through my head at this point was the wedding-favorite song “Shout!” You know the one… a little bit louder now…except with the onions….
We added a little flour so the broth would thicken, a little more wine (you can never go wrong with more wine), and then 8 cups of beef stock along with the beef we’d browned earlier. After letting it simmer for a few minutes, we threw in some garlic, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and then walked away for an hour or two while all the flavors starting melding together. Also it gave us some time to wait for the bread!
For the crouton portion of this soup, we broke out our wedding-gift bread maker for the first time and made a french bread. It looks like it deflated a little when we carved the M in the top before it started to cook. Next time we’ll be sure to carve initials before the bread starts to rise! It didn’t seem to change the flavor, or even the texture.
After awhile (basically the bread was done and we were hungry), we started to adjust the seasonings- added a bit more salt (dont overdo this– especially if you’re having a cheese crust since the cheese will be salty), some red wine vinegar (just a dash to brighten), another dash of Worcestershire sauce and then it was time to put it all together!
We cut some squares and toasted them with the broiler. We served this up in mugs with a parmesan and mozzarella crust – also toasted with the broiler. Yum!
Tim’s take: I like onion soup! The broth ended up very beefy, which I think is a plus. We ended up skimming a lot of fat off the top of this from the fatty piece of beef we used, so a leaner cut might be better next time. I’d also forgo the flour used to thicken the soup. It made the broth cloudy, and I think I’d prefer to have it a little more clear even if it means sacrificing some viscosity. Also, I found the longer onion strips made it a little hard to get the onions on my spoon without having them slurp off back into the soup. Next time, I think we’ll cut them in half to avoid this. The hearty bread made a great crouton – thanks Christi and Mike for the bread maker! I give this effort 4 stars out of 5. Definitely one to revisit some time!
Jen’s take: It was good and rich, and filled me up fast!! Next time I would use a better beef broth (we bought the cheapest one we could find) and maybe half it with chicken stock. I definitely agree with Tim about the flour. Without the bread and cheese, the soup was good, rich, buttery, and decadent. With the hearty bread and the tangy parmesan crust, it was pretty near perfect! 4 stars out of 5!! One to revisit when it gets a little cooler in NC!
So there you are! Not very intimidating to make at all!
French Onion Soup
Adapted from some conglomeration of this recipe and this recipe.
- A cheap cut of beef (feel free to omit)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 Large Yellow Onions, sliced thin
- 1 cup dry white wine (more never hurt anyone)
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar (feel free to omit)
- 2 tablespoons flour (feel free to omit)
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- a dash or two (or three!) of Worcestershire Sauce
- a dash of red wine vinegar to season as necessary
- salt and pepper to season as necessary
- Thick Slices of bread, toasted
- some cheese (we used parmesan and mozzarella).
Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Salt and pepper the beef. Wait till the oil is nice and hot (like smoking hot!) and then sear the beef on both sides. Remove and set aside. If enough fat rendered from the beef, then add the onions, if it’s a little dry, put a little more oil in there before adding the onions. At this point you can add in a little white wine like we did, or not. Turn the heat low, place the lid on the pot, and let cook, covered, for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, turn the heat up to med-low, take off the lid and let any liquid boil away. Stir in salt and sugar. Cook the onions slowly, stirring often until they are a uniform deep golden brown color. Now stir in the flour (or don’t if you want it to be clear). Deglaze with more wine, and then add the beef stock, the beef, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring it up to a nice simmer, and walk away. Come back in an hour or so and adjust the seasonings- some more salt, pepper, or vinegar to “brighten” the flavor – whatever it needs. Also, feel free to remove the beef, we tried to eat some of it but it was waaaaay too tough, and still pretty fatty. Skim off any fat that’s on the surface.
Just before you can’t stand it that you haven’t eaten yet, get out your favorite crusty bread and cut it so that it’ll fit in whatever bowl/cup you want to use for soup. Put the oven on Broil and toast the bread to a nice golden brown color. Ladle the soup into the cups, top with the bread, and sprinkle a good handful of grated parmesan and mozzarella cheese on top. Throw it all back under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and brown. ENJOY!