Chef Elizabeth’s Classic French Onion Soup
The days are getting longer on the Farm and around Georgian Bay and that is making me very happy after such a cold winter. I am really looking forward to Spring but I do know that there are plenty of snowy days still to come. This Classic French Onion Soup is a delicious way to end a cold and busy day. Put it in a slow cooker in the morning and it will be ready by dinner time.
As a French trained Chef I am determined to bring back the Classics that I so enjoyed when I was growing up. Toronto had so many wonderful French restaurants back then. This 70’s French classic, made popular by Julia Child deserves a comeback.Too many watery and tasteless renditions turned people off this dish. Much like croissants and “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche”. As someone who has spent a lot of time in France, good croissants are hard to find nowadays.
Now to French Onion Soup, it is time to learn how to make a French Classic. This is a fantastic dish to have in your repertoire and it only asks that you have onions and stock and wine. The Cognac adds flourish but you can skip it. I know that not everyone has a bottle of brandy in their bar. I am sure that at one point in our varied culinary journeys that everybody had a set of onion soup crocks. If you have jettisoned them check for the crocks at garage sales or thrift shops.
Outside of the cheese, this is an economic meal.To save costs you can reduce the amount of cheese. I serve this as a main meal and I love cheese so I use the entire amount. I have many happy memories of having lunch with my sister Tizi at Jacques Bistro du Parc in Toronto and asking for double cheese. I lost my sister to cancer a few years ago and making this soup brings back warm memories.
Chef’s Notes: This soup is perfect for a slow cooker.You can use your food processor to slice the onions.Make sure you use a heavy bottomed sauce pan or the onions will burn. Try to find Vidalia onions as they are sweeter.The flour is used to give some body to the soup. If you prefer is more watery leave it out. You can make this ahead and refrigerate or freeze the soup. For best results use good quality baguette as regular bread will disintegrate into the soup. I like to cube my bread first as it is easier to eat that way.
For a change I make my Classic French Onion Soup in little crock pots by Cuisinart. Those crock pots were in every kitchen in town a few years ago. I waited until they were on sale for half price and bought 4. The soup served inside the mini Le Creusets makes a fun starter for a formal meal. The small crocks of soup are great to eat while watching your favorite game. French onion soup is like fondue it is fun to eat and share the experience. Remember plenty of napkins and serve with a dish underneath to catch the drips. Serve baguette on the side to soak up every last drop.
Servings: 4 servings | Difficulty: Easy
- 1/2 stick butter=¼ of a pound
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 8 cups thinly sliced onions (about 2-1/2 pounds)
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Approximately 1 cup of water to keep onions from sticking and burning
- 4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 8 cups low sodium beef or chicken stock – beef gives a richer flavour
- 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1/4 cup Cognac, or other good brandy (this adds flavour but it is optional)
- 1 cup dry white or red wine or vermouth
- 8 (1/2-inch) baguette cut into thick slices or cut into croutons
- 3/4 pound (3 cups) coarsely grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese
Melt the butter and oil in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat. When the butter has melted, stir in the onions, cover, and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, and the minced garlic. Continue to cook slowly and let the onions and garlic brown, adding water if the onions start to stick. I usually add up to 1 cup of water as they onions cook. Stir frequently until they are a dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes.
Sprinkle in the flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool a moment, AT THIS POINT YOU CAN TRANSFER THE SOUP TO A SLOW COOKER.Then whisk in 2 cups of hot stock. Bring the soup to the simmer, adding the rest of the stock, (Cognac), and wine. Add the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme. Cover loosely, and simmer very slowly 1 1/2 hours, adding a little water or wine if the liquid reduces too much. Taste for seasoning and remove the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme. IF USING A SLOW COOKER- Cover cooker, set on High, and cook 4 to 6 hours. If desired, set on Low and cook 8 to 10 hours.
Turn on the broiler as you Divide the Hot soup among 4 ovenproof bowls. Arrange toast or croutons on top
of the soup and sprinkle very generously with the
grated cheese. Place bowls on a cookie sheet and place under a preheated broiler until cheese melts and forms a crust over the tops of the bowls. Serve immediately.
Wine suggestion: a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot
Recipe adapted from Julia Child, “The Way to Cook”