Simple French Onion Soup
I'm not a huge fan of soup. I typically only go for the creamy ones, like the creamy crack that is Broccoli Cheddar soup (from Panera Bread, of course) or a chowder. Also, I love Sancocho, a Caribbean stew that my dad used to make with potatoes and beef shank. And finally, French onion soup.
The first time I had French onion soup was a few summers ago. My sister had a Groupon for Mark Joseph Steakhouse and I had just moved to New York City, so it was our first real sister day together. I ordered the French onion soup for an appetizer and a New York strip steak with mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. I basically inhaled the soup and I haven't had a better one since.
Preparing the Onions
My French onion soup is simple, it just covers the bases when it comes to the traditional flavors. I prefer my French onion soup with white onions (sometimes known as Spanish onions) and sweet onions. For this recipe, I used three white onions, two sweet onions and one yellow onion, all of them medium to large in size. Slice them as thin as you can but try not to make it more than a quarter of an inch thick. The hardest part is in the beginning because you need to have patience. You must caramelize the onions---and while it normally wouldn't take long to caramelize a few slices of onions, this process takes about an hour. Honestly, that hour is if you're a guru on how your stove works, have the perfect temperature to do this and if the day is on your side.
Start this process with a little bit of butter (two tbsp) and keep you heat at medium so it doesn't burn the onions. Also, the onions will sweat out, so you don't need a lot of butter to keep the onions from sticking if that is your fear. After you add the onions to the pot, cook the onions and stir when needed. If you have a non-stick pot, you'll need to raise the heat so the onion juice can evaporate instead of the onions stewing in their own sweat. Before the onions get soft and translucent, add a few sprigs of fresh thyme and two bay leaves. Remember to take out the herbs before you serve to others.
You should caramelize your onions until they are caramel in color, but sometimes I am impatient so I didn't let them get that brown. However, that's when you start the stock. If you don't have a non-stick pot then you should definitely use white wine to not only add flavor but deglaze the pan. I used between three tbsp and a quarter cup of Joseph Filippi Vino Blanco. I know it's a bit nerve-racking to open up a bottle of white wine just to use so little for a recipe, but I suggest you drink this one. It's a tiny bit sweet but still considered a dry wine. I actually chose this wine from a tasting we had at the Joseph Filippi Vineyard in Rancho Cucamonga. But if you aren't in SoCal, you can order their wines online, or for this recipe use your favorite white.
Then, I added about two tbsp of beef Better Than Bouillon base and dissolved it as much as possible into the onions before adding two cups of chicken stock and six cups of beef stock. Once the stock is added, simmer on med-low heat for about 15 minutes before seasoning with salt and pepper to taste (this will be dependent heavily on how much sodium is in your stock of choice). Let it simmer for at least another half hour before it's finished and turn the heat off.
One of the best parts about French onion soup is the Gruyere cheese toast that floats in your bowl. Gruyere is a semi-hard and kind of funky cheese. It's mildly funky as compared to a Bleu cheese, but when you're around it long enough it can start to smell like gym socks. I don't have any fancy apparatus to hold the soup and toast the cheese properly in the oven, so typically I cut up either some sourdough bread or baguette into croutons and had the cheese on top before toasting in the oven. This year, I did some slices of baguette, kind of like if I were making crostini. Then, I lightly drizzled them with olive oil and added grated Gruyere to the top. Remember to save some extra Gruyere for the top of the soup.
When it's time to eat, just float your little Gruyere toasts in your bowl of French onion soup. If you've never tried French onion soup and you don't dislike onions (apparently a ton of people don't like onions!) I recommend trying this recipe, don't let it intimidate you. If not for the onions, do it for the cheese, it's worth it.