Saturday, March 20, 2010

French Onion Soup

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, January 2008
Serves 6

Most people, including me, don’t have those fancy little oven-safe French Onion Soup dishes.  And while I really do love all that melty cheese that gets stuck all around the sides of the bowl, like how you find in restaurants, it’s hard to recreate that at home without the right serving pieces.  The following recipe is a tasty adaptation for home cooks and home kitchens.

For the soup:
1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
6 large yellow onions (about 4 #), peeled and chopped (not sweet onions!) *
1/2 cup sherry
2 quarts chicken stock
6 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F and position an oven rack in the lower-middle position.  Generously spray bottom and sides of a large (about seven quarts), oven-safe Dutch oven with cooking spray.  Place the butter in the bottom of the pot and add the chopped onions.  Season with about 1 tsp salt.  Cover the Dutch oven and bake one hour.  (The onions will be moist, slightly browned and reduced in volume.)  Remove the pot form the oven and stir the onions, scraping up with a wooden spoon any browned bits sticking to the sides and bottom of the pot.  (Always return these browned bits, ugly as they are, back to the pot – it’s where all the flavor lies!)  Keeping the lid just slightly ajar, return the pot to the oven and continue to cook until the onions are very soft and deeply golden brown, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, stirring the onions and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot every 30 minutes.

Remove the pot from the oven and place over medium-high heat.  Using mitts to handle the pot (Try not to forget that this is wicked hot!) cook the onions, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom and sides with a wooden spoon, until the onions are equally browned, about 15 minutes.  If the onions begin to brown too quickly, reduce the heat to medium, so they don’t blacken or burn.  Continue to cook, still stirring quite frequently, until a dark crust begins to coat the bottom of the pot.  Add 1/4 cup water and scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to loosen the crust.  Cook until the water evaporates and the pot develops another browned crust, stirring frequently if not constantly, about 5 minutes.  Repeat this process of deglazing 2-3 more times, until the onions are incredibly dark brown.  (Dark brown, NOT black!)

Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring and scraping, until the sherry evaporates, about 2-5 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, 2 cups water, thyme sprigs and bay leaf.  Bring to a simmer over high heat.  Reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer 30 minutes.  Remove and discard the thyme and bay leaf.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper.

For the croutons:
1/2 baguette
1/4 cup butter, melted
8 oz gruyere cheese, shredded

Slice the French bread at a slight diagonal angel into approximately 1-inch slices.  Brush liberally with melted butter on both sides, and arrange in a single layer on a sheet tray.  Bake in a 400°F oven until the bread is crisp and golden around the edges, about 10 minutes.  Flip over and bake another 5 minutes or so, until the other side is golden too.


To serve: Top each crouton with a generous clump of grated gruyere.  My little trick here is to give the grated cheese a little squeeze – it will stick together a bit, and you’ll be able to fit a lot on top of the crouton without most of it falling off.  Place the cheese-topped croutons on a sheet tray and broil, a few inches beneath the broiler, until the cheese is golden and bubbling.  Ladle the hot soup into serving bowls, and top each bowl with 1-2 cheesy croutons.  Serve immediately.

* Most recipes call for thinly sliced onions, and I suppose this is the traditional way to do things.  But chopped onions are Ben’s special request – he note, quite rightly, they’re easier to eat with a spoon – and so chopped onions remain a signature element of my French Onion Soup.





  1. Heyo! I just made this! I'm so proud of myself because it always seemed too hard and it was delish! Your recipe was really easy to follow. I have an electric stove and wasn't sure if my dutch oven can hop on that dainty ceramic top so I just did all the steps in the oven. It took longer probably but was easy to do while watching a movie in the next room (Julie and Julia, obviously!)
    -Meg C.

  2. Oh, I also wanted to know why you use chicken broth and not beef broth? I'm wondering how you think each changes the final product?
    Meg C.

  3. Yay, Meg! I'm so glad you tried this one out! It's totally restaurant style, right?!

    Beef stock will definitley give you a richer, beefier flavor over chicken stock, but... It's so much more a bother to make. When I can, I like to use homemade stocks, and chicken is leagues easier to whip up, compared to beef. Making beef stock is literally an all day affair.

    If you're using store-bought stock, then go either way. Flavorwise, I like Swanson's Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth and Pacific brand Beef Broth. Both are found in the sturdy paper boxes, not in cans. Thanks for the great question :). Hope I helped!