Onion Soup

As someone who is fascinated with the naming of national food theme days (and months), I jumped into action when I found out it is National Soup Month. Now, soup month is not my favorite food themed date, that is reserved for Meat on a Stick Day which is March 27th (mark your calendars). But it’s winter, and soups sounds just about right. Whoever decided on January as National Soup Month probably figured July was not the right timing.

I’ve been craving soup a lot lately. It feels nourishing this time of year. In my excitement to make a beautiful elaborate soup, I grabbed my grocery list and started to make a list of what I would want. Then I looked out the window and remembered I had one problem. . .

Still, there is something about making soup that is ultimately pleasing. You start with such simple ingredients and build flavors one step at time until the end when you have a full flavored satisfying meal. The weather was perfect for a big bowl of hot deliciousness, but getting to the store was not an option in the snow. I might not be able to make soups with long lists of ingredients, but the great thing about soup is that you can pretty much always find something in your kitchen to turn into soup. So many soups are built on basic ingredients that most people have readily available, and such is the case with the classic French onion soup. The most basic recipe calls for little more than onions, water, old bread, a little Gruyere cheese and a tiny splash of wine. I did a quick cupboard check. I had pretty much everything except the Gruyere. I did have, however, a bunch of other cheeses, so I hopped into kitchen mode.

Making the soup is pretty straight forward. When I started looking up recipes, I was amazed. There seemed to be less variation on onion soup recipes than any recipe I had ever researched. All the recipes had you slice the onions and slowly cook them, deglaze with some sort of alcoholic beverage, then add broth (usually beef) and a few aromatics and simmer the soup to reduce and intensify flavors. The only variations seemed to be the type of alcohol used for deglazing: red wine, white wine or brandy. I’ve had onion soup made with just brandy and it’s wonderful, but perhaps a bit to rich. White wine is also nice, but too much adds a sour note that I’m not a fan of. So, decided to base my recipe on Julia Child’s recipe in The Way To Cook and use a combination of both white wine and brandy. After looking through several recipes I also decided on just thyme for aromatics. After surveying my cheese selection, I opted for some grated aged Gouda and sliced Double Gloucester cheddar that I had on hand.

This is the perfect soup to make on a snowy day because it isn’t difficult, but it does take awhile. Constant attention while your onions are browning is key, but then once you add the broth and start the simmering stage, feel free to go out in the snow and make snow angels; we did.

Onion soup may not seem like the sort of thing that is kid-friendly, but it’s actually one of the easiest soups to make for your kids. Simply strain out the onions and give them bread with melted cheese on the side to dip.

Snowy Day Onion Soup – click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe
based on a recipe in The Way to Cook, by Julia Child
makes 6-8 servings

There are three things which make up the secret to good onion soup. First, slice the onions very thin; second make sure your onion slices are as even in size as possible so they brown at the same rate; and finally you need a lot of patience in browning the onions. To get the onion to brown right, you really need to stir every few minutes for about 40 minutes.

4 tablespoons butter
2 pounds sweet onions sliced thin (2-3 large onions, about 8 cups sliced)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons flour
3 sprigs thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 cups Vegetable Stock, Beef Stock, or even Chicken Stock – water if your in a real pinch
6 slices of hearty bread such as french, sourdough or ciabatta, sliced in half if too large for your bowls
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces of thinly sliced or shredded cheese (use the best of whatever you have: cheddar, Parmesan, Gorgonzola, etc)

Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed dutch oven or soup pot placed over medium heat. When the butter starts to bubble, add onions, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring two or three times until the onions are wilted and the liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes until the onions are a medium-dark brown, about 25 minutes longer.

Onions during the cooking process: top left – raw sliced, top right – after 10 minutes of cooking, bottom – after 40 minutes of cooking

When the onions have finished browning add the thyme and flour, and cook for two minutes. Add the brandy and cook until the brandy had almost completely cooked off, about five minutes. Slowly whisk in the stock and white wine and bring the soup to a simmer. Simmer over low heat for about an hour, or until the liquid has reduced by about 1/3 and the onions have mostly dissolved into the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

While the soup is simmering, heat oven to 450 degrees and drizzle bread slices with olive oil. Toast bread slices in the oven until the edges are slightly brown and the bread is crunchy, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven.

When the soup is ready, turn on your oven broiler. Ladle soup into oven-safe bowls, top with 1-2 slices of toasted bread and about an ounce of cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is brown and bubbly. Cool slightly before serving. Soup will hold without cheese and bread topping for several days in the refrigerator, or for longer in the freezer.


8 thoughts on “Onion Soup

  1. Beautiful picture! I love french onion soup…made a batch several weeks ago when I was craving soup but had only the basics on supply. Will try your combo of brandy + white wine next time.

  2. French onion soup saved my life while in Paris this winter. So I was really excited when I found your recipe via tastespotting. But a bit perplexed, your list of ingredients states white wine and brandy, but it doesn’t figure anywhere in the actual process.

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