After my wife Rachel’s baby shower I made Grandma Peters (now Great Grandma Peters) my third trial run of French Onion Soup. It wasn’t my best, but it was passable, and I told her I was searching for the perfect recipe. She took the ball and ran with it and sent up Julia Childs recipe (that is her favorite) along with 6 onion soup crocks when she got back to Solana Beach. We were tickled and so I have continued my experiments. This past Saturday I finally nailed a recipe that is everything I ever wanted in a french onion soup.
I had found a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated that I blended with Julia Child’s that has turned out the best so far (version 6.0). Cook’s was 4.0 and Julia Child’s was 5.0, neither was as deep as I wanted and so most of the substitution is in the proportions of beef stock, which Julia Child got right, but Cook’s got the deglaze and onion balance right! Note Julia does have a good idea which I have tried in other versions of adding sugar to the onions which is to add 1/4 tsp sugar to onion to help them brown. I did not use it on Saturday (I forgot) and so in deference to Saturday’s success, here it is in its full glory. I won’t get to try version 6.1 with the sugar probably for a while, as baby’s don’t handle onions/garlic too hot, and the hospital staff will appreciate if I don’t indulge this close to our due date.
Here it is:
Nick’s Best Onion Soup (version 6.0)
time to serve (allow 4 hours)
3 TB unsalted butter cut in 3 pieces
6 L yellow onions (about 4 pounds – cut in 1/4″ pieces pole to pole) DO NOT use sweeter varieties, you are building a soup base of savory onion.
1 c water (or less see instructions)
1/4 c dry sherry
1/3 c port
3.5 c beef broth (or more see instructions)
2.5 c chicken broth (or less see instructions)
3-6 sprigs of fresh thyme (bundled in mesh bag if separate)
1 bay leaf (or equivalent tsp of dried crushed bay leaf)
salt and pepper
At least a 4 quart (hopefully bigger ceramic dutch oven with lid)
6 onion soup crocks
Gruyere and Baguette (at least 8 ozs gruyere)
Using the methodologies propounded by Julia Child, Cook’s Illustrated, and Jefferey Steingarten I have gone through several versions of this recipe to arrive at the following schema borrowing heavily from both Julia Child and Cook’s Illustrated’s versions. The goal is as much carmelization as possible so patience and dark brown onions are the ultimate goal.
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a lower rack to accept dutch oven. Generously spray inside of dutch oven with cooking spray, drop in butter and onions and bake covered for 1 hour.
2) After 1 hour, remove with mitts, add 1/2 tsp salt, and stir mixture which will have browned and even slightly blackened at parts with about 1/3-1/2 the total volume now. Scrape sides of dutch oven to get burnt “fondt” off the sides and into the mixture. Return to oven and cook for 1 hour more with lid of ducth oven slightly ajar. Stir after this second hour and return to oven for 30-45 minutes.
3) Remove dutch oven and handle with mitts. Remove lid and place on oven top at medium/high heat stirring until liquid evaporates enough to stop bubbling. Scrape fodnt back in occasionally. Deglaze with a splash of water (1/4 cup max) three times. After third deglaze, deglaze with sherry and port and let the liquid evaporate one last time.
3) If your dutch oven is on the small side you may want to switch onions to a large heavy bottomed saucepan at this point. Stir in broths, water, thyme, bay leaf and another 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to gentle boil and then back off heat and let simmer covered for 30 minutes.
NOTE ON BROTHS: Your goal is seven cups of liquid. I prefer 1 c water, 3.5 c beef broth, and 2.5 c chicken broth. My suggestion is that if you’re going to change proportions sacrifice water and chicken for more beef broth for a heartier flavor. My proportions worked brilliantly at the Spring Solstice the meeting of the cold and warm climes and so seems a happy compromise of spring carmelized sugars and winter’s hearty caramelized proteins and starches.
4) While soup simmers bake croutons (baguette slices)( at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. When soup is done cover with 1-2 croutons in crocks (nearly full). Cover with gruyere (sliced or grated) and broil for 3-5 minutes until cheese boils. Pull out of oven with mitts and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
5) If you don’t have broil safe crocks (with handles!), nuke the bowls of soup and let rest. Handle hot liquid bowls with care.
Bon appetite and cheers,