We’ve all been there – you’ve got nowt in your pantry other than a few onions, a stick or two of butter and half a bottle of wine in the fridge? Believe it or not, you have virtually all the ingredients necessary to whip up a true classic – French onion soup!
A tragically maligned stalwart of French cuisine, onion soup is a relic of 80s bistro fare that most of us are simply just too cool to admit to liking these days. Once considered the epitome of a classic soup, this wonderful dish has been woefully neglected in recent years; a travesty that bares testament to the fact that even the greatest dishes can eventually fall out of favour. Food fads and fashions come and go, but French onion soup deserves so much more and is, finally, enjoying somewhat of a revival and is being appreciated for the old school classic that it is.
So why, oh why is a good French onion soup still so hard to come by these days?
Sadly for what it lacks in fancy ingredients, French onion soup demands in effort and undivided attention, which is probably why a good bowl of this sweet and sour delight is so difficult to find. Simply given the sheer amount of time needed to diligently ‘guard’ your onions against burning, I sometimes doubt making this soup is always compatible with the rigours of a modern commercial kitchen and is, perhaps, more suited to home cooking. Not that I want to put you off, but making good French onion soup is the culinary equivalent of watching paint dry and should only be made when you’ve got the time to do it properly, without any distractions. After all, like so many French classics, onion soup is about transforming the humble into the divine and if that was meant to be easy, it simply wouldn’t be French.
French Onion Soup: Serves 4
For the soup:
- 4 large brown onions
- 100g butter
- 1 tbsp. plain flour
- Fresh thyme leaves, about 1 tbsp.
- 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 500ml white wine
- 500ml beef stock (the best you can get)
- 1 tbsp. brandy
- Salt and pepper
For the croutons:
- 4 slices of day-old baguette
- Melted butter
- 100 g Gruyère, Parmesan or Pecorino, finely grated
- Peel your onions then cut them in half, slice them into half-moons as finely as possible (I use a mandolin)
- Over a low heat, melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed pan
- Add the sliced onions and season with salt and pepper
- On a low heat, cook the onions until they turn a deep walnut colour. Make sure you stir them regularly as you do not want the onions to burn. This is the most important part of the recipe as burnt onions will ruin the soup, so don’t get distracted and stay focused. The onions may take up to an hour to cook, sometimes more
- Add the flour and thyme, stir for a couple of minutes (making sure the flour doesn’t catch on the base of the pan and burn)
- Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and half the wine, simmer for a couple of minutes
- Add the remaining wine and beef stock, bring the soup to a boil
- Reduce the heat, partially cover and simmer for an hour, after which add the brandy and check for seasoning
- In the meantime, brush the baguette slices with the melted butter and lightly toast on both sides
- When ready to serve, ladle the soup into ovenproof soup dishes, top with the prepared croutons and cover with a generous heap of cheese. Place in a preheated grill and cook until golden
- Serve immediately