Authentic French Onion Soup
Contributed by: Charlie Burke
Many variations of onion soup are served, but the best, I
believe, are true to the traditions of the bistros in Paris
neighborhoods. Certainly, each kitchen has its own
preferences (and we will offer options as well), but each
preparation requires following a few essential steps - slow
and thorough browning of the onions, simmering the broth and
onions sufficiently to allow full flavor to develop and,
finally, time in the oven to intensify these flavors.
Although total preparation time is two hour or so, only the
initial browning requires close attention. The soup can be
made a day or two ahead, then reheated and baked just before
serving. The results are worth the effort when compared to
the pale onions and thin flavors which disappear under a
thick layer of cheese in more common recipes.
For 6 - 8 servings:
- 6 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup white wine (optional)
- 2 quarts chicken broth, beef broth or water
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 6-8 slices French bread
- 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese or a mixture of either with Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup Cognac, dry Madeira or sherry (optional)
Place a thick- bottomed pot (4 quart) over medium heat and
add olive oil. Add onions and 1 teaspoon of salt. Mix onions
with oil and salt, stirring until onions wilt. Turn heat to
low and cook, stirring frequently until onions are a deep
golden brown, approximately 30-40 minutes. Do not let
tips of slices burn.
Add white wine and boil down until it
is nearly evaporated. Add broth or water and bring to a
simmer over medium heat, then turn down to low and simmer
partially covered for 45 minutes. While soup is simmering,
place bread slices on a sheet and place into a preheated
325-335 degree oven until toasted golden brown.
To serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Taste the broth and
add salt and pepper to taste (little or no added salt may be
necessary if canned broth was used). Add the 1/4 cup of Cognac
or other spirits, if using, and ladle soup into oven-proof
bowls. Place a slice of bread into each bowl and divide the
cheese among the bowls. Place a sheet pan into the oven and
place soup bowls into pan. Bake until bubbling and cheese is
slightly browned (20 -30 minutes).
If water is used, a lighter broth results, and highlights
the rich onion flavor. Chicken stock adds depth to the soup,
while beef broth produces the darkest, most dense version.
Try them all and consider using half water and half broth.
If you wish to avoid the cheese and bread, simmer the soup 5
or 10 minutes longer and skip the baking; it is served this
way, as well. Serve any version with a mixed salad and enjoy
a brief trip to a Paris bistro!
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the
vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer's Market
Association (www.nhfma.org). His column & recipes appear
weekly in The Heart of New England's newsletter...
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