It's not even nine o'clock in the morning, and I just finished a bowl of French onion soup: the breakfast of champions, y'all. And seriously, if I hadn't just polished off the last of the leftovers, I would probably have it for lunch too. (Just like I did yesterday.) Because I love me some soup - but I looooooooove me some French onion soup. Which is why I have made it and made it and made it, time after time, slowly but surely tweaking the recipe until I have what I feel is the perfect version.
Yeah, I said it. The perfect version. I know, it's a bold claim, but trust me: I have tested and re-tested this recipe and the techniques used therein. I eat French onion soup at literally every restaurant I go to that offers it, and have done so in more than one country, so I'm pretty sure my taste buds are what you'd call "experienced" at distinguishing a good French onion soup from a mediocre one. And this recipe, my friends, makes a goooood French onion soup (in fact, I just gave the recipe to someone recently who enthused that it was like restaurant soup). Trust me: I've come a long (long long long long long) way from the days when I nearly got my kids drunk from it.
So in the style of (a bootleg, knockoff, wannabe) Pioneer Woman, I'm going to share with you my FOS recipe, complete with three exclusive never-before-seen photos of onions (that I snapped with my glamorous cell phone camera)!! Why? Because you're my peeps, and even though I rarely post recipes, I can't hold out on sharing such a delicious FOS any longer. (See what I'm doing here? Substituting "FOS" for "French onion soup?" I feel that's the cool thing to do from this point on.)
There is no special, secret, have-to-climb-the-French-alps-to-get-it ingredient; in fact, for something that tastes so deliciously rich and complex, this recipe has surprisingly few ingredients. Simple is divine! The biggest "secret" is actually patience - but we'll get to that in a minute. First: the onions.
mandolin slicer of death to just slicesliceslice them quickly into thin rings. If you want more bite-sized pieces you could just cut the rings in half, but they cook down so much anyway that it's not like they're hard to get in your mouth. Unless my mouth is just, like, super-big. Which it very well may be.
While you're slicing your onions, melt some butter (real butter thankyouverymuch, not margarine or any other substitute) in your soup pot over low heat. I use about half a stick, but it's not a precise science: if you want to use more, use more. You could also use half butter, half olive oil. Put your onion slices into the melted butter/oil/whatever until you've got a full-ish pot, like this:
It takes about six big onions to fill up my pot. You want a LOT of onions, because they will shrink to teeny-tiny proportions once they're properly cooked. So even if it feels like you've got enough onions - keep adding until your pot is brimming with 'em. Then give them a toss to coat them with the melted butter. At this point, you can add a pinch of sugar if you want (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't) - but don't add salt just yet.
Now comes the fun part: waiting. It takes time, and lots of it, for the onions to properly cook. Now a lot of the websites I looked on while I was researching how to perfectly caramelize onions said something like, "This will take at least twenty minutes." But I? Have never gotten perfectly caramelized onions in twenty minutes. Or half an hour. Nope. I prefer to cook mine looooow and sloooooow: on a "3" or "4" heat setting for like two hours, give or take a bit, stirring them every fifteen minutes or so. Once they start to cook, they'll look like this:
See how much they've cooked down? But although they might be soft and golden, they're not done yet. Ohhh nooo. More time is needed, my pretties. At this point, you can add a couple teaspoons of minced garlic (I just use the pre-minced kind from a jar ... but never garlic powder or garlic salt. Ick. Use the real stuff, please). Stir it into the onions. (Did you know that garlic can caramelize, too?) Caramelization is an amazing process. It takes sharp, pungent, crispy onions and turns them into tender, sweet-savory, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. Like magic.
Now more waiting (and, if you're like me, impatiently peering into the pot and trying not to drool into it because OMG, the smeeeeellllll). You've got to cook those babies until they look like this:
Actually, you could wait even longer - until they're even darker than that. Because the deep caramelization of the onions is what gives this soup its awesome yum-factor. Just make sure you're watching and stirring occasionally so they don't burn. Because burnt onions aren't where it's at.
At this point, sprinkle in a tablespoon or so of flour and stir it around. It will look kind of like a pasty mess - that's okay, bear with me (you can add a little more butter if you want to loosen it up a bit, but it isn't necessary). Cook for about two minutes, stirring it around some.
Then comes the alcohol! Margaritas for everybody!
Just kidding. Well, about the margarita part anyway - it is time for some alcohol, but it's going in the soup. I use this: Holland House brand cooking sherry.
It's fancy stuff. I get it at Walmart, y'all.
If you want, you can use red wine. Get all expensive if you desire. But I've found that the cooking sherry works just fine. Now: stir about a half-cup of it into the floured onions. Turn the heat up a little bit (just a smidge) and cook it for at least three or four minutes. Because if you don't? You risk getting tipsy from your soup. Seriously. If you haven't read the post about this that I linked to earlier, go back and do it now. Consider it an integral part of your FOS lesson.
Once you've cooked it for a few, stir in some beef broth or stock. Some recipes call for chicken, but I've found that beef lends a much deeper flavor. For this, splurge on the decent stuff. I mean, it won't be disgusting if you use the generic white-carton "BEEF BROTH" ... but it makes quite a difference, so get the best you can get. Pour it in slowly, stirring as you go. I use about one and a half of the beef broth that comes in the 32-ounce boxes ... so approximately 48-50 ounces. Use your own judgment.
Next, grab a bottle of Worcestershire sauce. I use Lea & Perrins, but I'm not sure the brand makes a huge difference. Add a few glugs - I'd say maybe 1/8th to 1/4th of a cup? - to the soup. (Don't you just love my precise and scientific measurements?) And when you've done that, add some salt (I use kosher salt) and plenty of freshly-ground black pepper. It's important to taste-test at this point. A lot. Much like when you make, you know, dessert or something.
Although theoretically you could eat it right this minute (and trust me, it's hard not to), it's much better if you let it simmer for a while so all those elements can marry into a flavor that makes your eyes roll back in your head.
Now this is where my recipe differs from the others. Traditionally, FOS is served with a piece of bread on top, smothered in melted cheese. But I have a thing about soggy bread. Bread + liquid = not delicious. So you're welcome to take the steps of putting the soup into the ovenproof bowl, laying a slice of bread over it, and broiling some cheese on top - but I'm not going to. Instead, I like to put some cheese (Gruyere or Muenster) in the bottom of my bowl and ladle the hot soup over it, making it into one big melty, gooey, cheesy, heavenly mess. No soggy bread needed.
I don't have a picture of the finished product because, well, I was too busy shoveling it in my face. But I did try to put together an actual recipe for y'all to follow rather than the sometimes-vague proportions I referred to in the tutorial. However, even my proportions vary from day to day, so tweak it the way you see fit. Anyway, here you go:
French Onion Soup a la Frumpy
5-7 yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 T. butter
a pinch of sugar, optional
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 T. flour
1/2 cup cooking sherry or good-quality red wine
48-50 oz. beef broth or stock (almost two cartons)
1/8 - 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a soup pot (mine is either 3 or 4 quarts) over medium-low heat. Add sliced onions and a pinch of sugar, and toss to coat. Let onions cook, stirring occasionally, until deep brown in color (be patient, and don't be tempted to turn up the heat!). Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of flour over the caramelized onions and let it cook another 2-3 minutes more. Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup cooking sherry, scraping up brown bits with the spoon; cook for 4-5 minutes or until liquid is slightly reduced. Slowly stir in beef broth; add Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Simmer. Add cheese (I prefer Gruyere or Muenster) and croutons/bread if desired to individual bowls before serving. Enjoy!!
I can't even tell you how many people this recipe serves because I eat this soup like a total pig and can polish off multiple "servings" in one sitting ... plus I like leftovers. I'd say you could get six to eight normal-sized servings out of it - maybe more if you're using bread - but don't quote me on that.
Happy eating, y'all!